WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves a House Republican conference meeting in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Oct. 24, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans late Tuesday voted to tap Louisiana’s Mike Johnson as speaker after the GOP nominee from earlier in the day was tanked.
Johnson, 51, is the fourth Republican nominee attempting to break the deadlock in the lower chamber that has been leaderless and frozen for three weeks. He is the second to hail from Louisiana.
“Democracy is messy sometimes,” Johnson said at a jubilant press conference following his victory. “We’re going to serve the people of this country. You’re going to see a new form of government.”
Republicans in the room cheered his name, “Mike, Mike, Mike,” as they gathered behind him in a show of unity.
The earliest Johnson’s nomination would be brought to the floor is Wednesday afternoon, although there is not a scheduled vote yet.
In the final roll call ballot behind closed doors, Johnson got 128 GOP votes over 29 for Florida’s Byron Donalds.
Even though Johnson won the nomination, 44 Republicans voted for other candidates not on the ballot, a potential problem for Johnson as he reaches for the speaker’s gavel. Forty-three of the votes were for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and one for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
Not all House Republicans were present for the final vote.
Earlier Tuesday, in a separate series of closed-door votes, Johnson came in second place to Minnesota’s Tom Emmer, the No. 3 Republican.
But Emmer’s attempt was quickly doomed after former President Donald Trump took to social media to warn that electing Emmer would be a “tragic mistake.” Without Trump’s endorsement, it would be virtually impossible for Emmer to coalesce more than 20 hard-right Republicans loyal to the former president.
Once Emmer bowed out of the speaker’s race, after just four hours as the nominee, six candidates announced they’d run.
Some had previously run, such as Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern, Donalds and Johnson. Roger Williams of Texas and Tennessee’s Mark Green and Chuck Fleischmann entered for the first time.
Hern dropped out before Republicans gathered behind closed doors to vote Tuesday night and threw his support behind Johnson.
“Mike Johnson is a great individual, somebody who will be a great leader for our conference,” Hern said. “I look forward to serving under Speaker Mike Johnson’s organization as we go forward.”
Because Republicans hold a slim majority, Johnson will need the support of nearly all 221 Republican votes on the House floor, as all 212 Democrats are expected to vote for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Johnson, a lawyer, represents Louisiana’s 4th District in the northwestern part of the state and serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees. He was first elected in 2016 to an open seat and is vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Republicans gathered behind closed doors and voted in three ballots Tuesday night before narrowing their choice to Johnson.
Fleischmann was dropped after the first round of voting, then Williams in the second round. Green also dropped out of the race in the second round. Donalds lost in the third and final round.
Johnson is an ally of Trump, and is close with far-right members, an advantage that Emmer did not have. As a former leader of the House Republican Study Committee, Johnson also chaired one of the largest Republican caucuses.
Johnson was one of more than 100 House Republicans who voted to block Pennsylvania and Arizona’s 2020 presidential election results following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In advance of the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 Johnson led a statement with 36 fellow Republicans outlining opposition to the Electoral College results in Georgia and Michigan as well.
Tuesday was not the first day that far-right factions outside the U.S. House had a hand in the speaker’s election.
Jordan’s campaign for the gavel stirred up pressure from popular conservative media personalities, including Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Several members reported they and their families received threats for not supporting Jordan, who co-founded the far-right House Freedom Caucus.
Three weeks of paralysis
Since former speaker Kevin McCarthy was stripped from his position after eight GOP lawmakers voted with all Democrats, Republicans have struggled to back a candidate who can reach 217 votes to become speaker.
Two Republican nominees — Louisiana’s Steve Scalise and Minnesota’s Emmer — never brought their nominations to the floor for a vote. Jordan brought his nomination to the floor for three unsuccessful votes but the party eventually tossed him aside, restarting the process.
If Johnson is successful, he will face a fast-approaching Nov. 17 deadline to renew government funding and a nearly $106 billion supplemental aid request from the White House for Ukraine, Israel and global aid and U.S. border security. He’ll also have to lead in moving must-pass legislation such as the annual defense bill and five-year reauthorization of the farm bill.
On top of legislative duties the new speaker will have to walk the line of negotiating with a White House and Senate controlled by Democrats while also fundraising and protecting vulnerable Republicans and expanding the House’s slim GOP majority in the 2024 elections.
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