After weeks of chaos, infighting, threats, and round after round of voting, the House of Representatives has finally elected Rep. Mike Johnson from Louisiana as its new speaker. Johnson is a hard-right conservative and evangelical Christian who led the Republican conference’s legal efforts to try to overturn Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. His election marks a clear shift to the right by Republicans, further complicating the dynamics of an already polarized Congress.
During Wednesday’s vote, there was not a single defection. The Republican conference finally closed ranks 22 days after the ouster of former speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was removed from the post through a motion to vacate filed by hardliner Rep. Matt Gaetz. Thus, Johnson managed to clear the fateful 217-vote threshold to get elected in just one full House vote, putting an end to three weeks of chaos that left the chamber paralyzed. His election puts him second in line to the presidency, only after vice president Kamala Harris.
Johnson’s election unblocks legislative activity at a crucial time, both internationally and domestically. President Biden has asked Congress to approve an aid package of more than $105 billion primarily for Ukraine and Israel. At the same time, the federal government is staring down at another possible shutdown next month when the stopgap measure to keep it funded expires.
On the House floor, Republicans could hardly contain their euphoria during Wednesday’s ballot. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the Republican chair, presented Johnson’s nomination: “Today is the day that House Republicans will humbly look in our hearts and elect Mike Johnson as speaker of the People’s House,” she said confidently. She defined Johnson as “a man of deep faith,” a “friend to all and enemy to none,” “strong, tough and fair.” Johnson also had the support of former president Donald Trump, who just the day before had torpedoed Tom Emmer’s bid for speaker.
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, who introduced his caucus’ candidate, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, said that this speaker election for Republicans has been about “who can appease Donald Trump.” In his view, Republicans have not stopped until finding “the person who can pass their litmus test of extremism to oppose marriage equality, enact a nationwide ban on abortion without exceptions, gut Social Security and Medicare, and support overturning a free and fair election.” Johnson voted against the law protecting same-sex marriages and is a supporter of restricting abortion nationwide.
Jeffries offered to work together with the Republicans but said he would draw a “blue line” (the color of the Democratic Party) against extremism. In his speech on the floor, he stressed that nothing will change the fact that Biden won the 2020 elections. The president himself, asked at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday whether he was worried that an electoral denier would lead the House of Representatives before the 2024 presidential elections, assured that he was not, just as he was not worried in 2020. He recalled that those who wanted to overturn the result lost all the lawsuits they filed. “I understand the Constitution,” he said.
Johnson was the fourth candidate the Republican conference chose during countless rounds of internal voting. In the first ballot, the winner had been Steve Scalise, but numerous hardline Republicans made it clear that they would block his bid, so he resigned immediately. Then the appointee became hardliner Jim Jordan, who had the support of both Trump and McCarthy himself. Despite receiving threats and other forms of pressure to support Jordan’s candidacy, moderate Republicans remained firm in their opposition to his election, making Jordan lose three full House votes. After the third defeat, the Republican conference decided on Friday to scrap his nomination and go back to square one.
Over the weekend, nine representatives expressed their interest in running for the post. The chosen one was Tom Emmer, who got 117 votes among the 221 members of his group. Like Scalise, he found there was no way to convince members of the radical wing of his conference to support him, especially after Trump attacked him and said electing him would be “a tragic mistake.” Emmer threw in the towel just hours after being nominated.
During Wednesday’s vote, Republicans have especially cheered for the defenestrated candidates (Scalise, Jordan and Emmer), all of whom gave Johnson their yeses.
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