WASHINGTON — Anxious Republicans prepared to vote once more Wednesday, hopeful of electing Rep. Mike Johnson as their House speaker to unite their fractious majority and end weeks of chaos by elevating a little-known conservative to one of the highest seats of U.S. power.
Johnson of Louisiana, a lower-ranked member of the House GOP leadership team, becomes the fourth Republican nominee in what has become an almost absurd cycle of political infighting since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as GOP factions jockey for power. While not the party’s top choice for the gavel, the deeply religious and even-keeled Johnson has few foes and an important GOP backer: Donald Trump.
“I think he’s gonna be a fantastic speaker,” Trump said Wednesday at the New York courthouse where the former president, who is now the Republican frontrunner for president in 2024, is on trial over charges of business fraud.
Trump said he hadn’t heard “one negative comment about him. Everybody likes him.”
As the House convened at noon, Johnson, who won the GOP majority behind closed doors but still needed all Republicans in the public roll call to win the gavel, said he felt “very good.”
Three Weeks Without a Speaker
Three weeks on without a House speaker, the Republicans have been wasting their majority status — a maddening embarrassment to some, democracy in action to others, but not at all how the House is expected to function.
Far-right members have refused to accept a more traditional speaker, and moderate conservatives don’t want a hardliner. While Johnson had no opponents during the private roll call late Tuesday, some two dozen Republicans did not vote, more than enough to sink his nomination.
But overnight the endorsements for Johnson started pouring in, including from failed speaker hopefuls — Rep. Jim Jordan, the hard-charging Judiciary Committee chairman gave his support as did Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the fellow Louisiana congressman who stood behind Johnson after he won the nomination.
“Mike! Mike! Mike!” lawmakers chanted at a press conference after the late-night internal vote, surrounding Johnson and posing for selfies in a show of support.
Anxious and exhausted, Republican lawmakers are desperately trying to move on.
“Pretty sad commentary on governance right now,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. “Maybe on the fourth or fifth or sixth or 10th try, we’ll get this thing right.”
Johnson Well Liked by His Colleagues
Johnson’s rise comes after a tumultuous month, capped by a head-spinning Tuesday that within a span of a few hours saw one candidate, Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP Whip, nominated then quickly withdraw when it became clear he would be the third candidate unable to secure enough support from GOP colleagues after Trump bashed his nomination.
“He wasn’t MAGA,” said Trump, referring to his Make America Great Again campaign slogan.
Attention quickly turned to Johnson. A lawyer specializing in constitutional issues, Johnson had rallied Republicans around Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results.
Elevating Johnson to speaker would give Louisianans two high-ranking GOP leaders, putting him above Scalise, who was rejected by hardliners in his own bid as speaker.
Deeply religious, Johnson is affable and well-liked, with a fiery belief system. Colleagues swiftly started giving their support.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led a small band of hardliners to engineer McCarthy’s ouster at the start of the month, posted on social media that “Mike Johnson won’t be the Speaker the Swamp wants but, he is the Speaker America needs.”
With Republicans controlling the House only 221-212 over Democrats, any GOP nominee can afford just a few detractors to win the gavel.