The House elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) to be the 56th Speaker on Wednesday, capping off a chaotic three weeks that paralyzed the lower chamber in stunning fashion.
In finally coalescing around a new leader, House Republicans hope that Johnson can steer them around a series of legislative and political landmines in the weeks and months to come — an objective that is poised to be a heavy lift in the fractured GOP conference.
Johnson, who was in his second term as vice chair of the House Republican Conference, won the Speaker’s gavel in a 220-209 vote over Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), officially cementing himself as successor to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) following McCarthy’s unprecedented removal earlier this month.
Republicans unanimously supported his election on the House floor.
Johnson’s ascension marks the end of a nasty and tumultuous period for the House GOP conference, which witnessed McCarthy’s ouster, cycled through four Speaker nominees and saw tensions reach a boiling point before settling on Johnson as its next leader.
“We’re in the majority right now,” Johnson said in a news conference on the House steps following his swearing-in as Speaker. “We’ve gone through a little bit of character building, and you know what it’s produced, more strength, more perseverance, and a lot of hope.”
“And that’s what we’re about to deliver to the American people,” he added.
While that tempestuous chapter has come to a close, it will not be all smooth sailing ahead for the House. Congress is staring down a Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown, and the White House is asking lawmakers to approve a $100 billion national security supplemental to support Israel and Ukraine amid their respective conflicts.
The two legislative efforts will serve as early tests of Johnson’s ability to manage the rabble-rousing GOP conference, a tall task that McCarthy struggled with throughout his nine-month tenure.
If the first part of the 118th Congress — and especially the past few weeks — are any indication, Johnson has his work cut out for him.
McCarthy was ousted in part over his move to pass a “clean” stopgap proposal to fund the government until Nov. 17 and avert a shutdown. Johnson has floated a stopgap measure into next year in order to avoid an omnibus package, which Republicans abhor.
But some hard-liners signal they will give Johnson some more grace navigating those issues than they did McCarthy.
“There was a trust factor with leadership last time,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said. “You don’t blame the backup quarterback for the failures of the guy that just came out of the game.”
The Louisiana Republican, for his part, signaled eagerness to meet the many challenges ahead.
Speaker-elect Mike Johnson (R-La.) is sworn in by the Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) to be the fifty sixth Speaker of the House in the House Chamber on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.
Just hours after electing Johnson as Speaker, the House brought up a bipartisan resolution supporting Israel. Lawmakers were eager to consider the legislation following Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct. 7, but the Speaker stalemate left the chamber unable to conduct any legislative business.
Johnson on Wednesday assured the U.S.’s allies and enemies around the globe that Congress is back on track.
“The last thing I’m going to say is a message to the rest of the world,” Johnson said in the House chamber. “They have been watching this drama play out for a few weeks; we’ve learned a lot of lessons, but you know what? Through adversity, it makes you stronger.”
“And we want our allies around the world to know that this body of lawmakers is reporting again to our duty stations,” he continued. “Let the enemies of freedom around the world hear us loud and clear: The People’s House is back in business.”
Johnson was sworn in by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the dean of the House, Wednesday afternoon, officially installing the Louisiana Republican as Speaker.
In a sign of his speedy rise to the Speakership — which came to fruition in less than 24 hours — Johnson noted that his wife, Kelly, did not make it to Washington in time for his swearing-in.
“She’s not here. We couldn’t get a flight in time. This happened sort of suddenly,” Johnson said.
While Johnson’s climb was quick, the process that led to his win dragged on for weeks.
Personal animosity, bare-knuckle tactics, moral outrage and even former President Trump kept House Republicans in a doom loop of internal turmoil for three weeks following McCarthy’s stunning ouster.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), hard-liners said, was too establishment — and some said his blood cancer diagnosis gave them pause. His chief competition, founding Freedom Caucus Chair-turned-Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), only endorsed him hours after he won the nod, and McCarthy openly wondered whether he could win the gavel. Scalise withdrew his name the next day.
Then, the conference tried Jordan. But fury from Scalise’s allies for Jordan supporters tanked the Ohio representative’s bid, and an intense pressure campaign that sparked death threats aimed at holdouts led to him losing three ballots on the House floor. The conference then voted to rescind the nomination.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) was up next — but criticisms over his votes against overturning the 2020 election and in favor of codifying same-sex marriage, as well as vocal opposition from Trump, led to him bowing out just four hours later.
In the end, Johnson — who has a conservative voting record, no major enemies and is generally known as a nice guy — became the consensus pick for Republicans as they exhausted their options, and themselves.
“A man of deep faith, Mike epitomizes what it means to be a servant leader,” House GOP Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in her nominating speech Wednesday.
“A friend to all, an enemy to none, Mike is strong, tough, and fair — and above all, Mike is kind,” Stefanik said.
Not even a last-minute push by McCarthy allies to try and reinstall him as Speaker amid the chaos could overcome the conference’s momentum in coalescing around Johnson.
The 51-year-old Johnson has been the House GOP’s vice chair, a junior leadership position, since 2021. He is also a former chair of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, and currently serves on the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees.
Before joining Congress in 2017, Johnson was a member of the Louisiana State House and a constitutional law attorney who had stints as a talk show host and a college professor. His wife, Kelly, is a licensed Christian counselor, and they have four children.
The mild-mannered Louisiana Republican has largely stayed under the radar throughout his tenure in Congress, focusing on his work with the House Judiciary Committee and House Armed Services Committee.
In 2020, Johnson emerged as a key player in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election. Johnson, then the vice chair of the House GOP conference, led an amicus brief backing a Texas lawsuit that sought to reverse the outcomes of the vote in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Johnson brushed off a question about his stance on the 2020 election Tuesday night. Asked about his efforts, the then-Speaker designate shook his head and said, “Next question,” while GOP lawmakers surrounding him booed the reporter and told her to “shut up.”
Democrats, for their part, have been quick to point out Johnson’s involvement in the 2020 plot.
“Mike Johnson was one of the chief architects of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Mike Johnson also wants to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it,” Jeffries said on “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday. “Those are extreme views, and House Democrats will push back aggressively against that.”
Throughout the three-plus week Speaker saga, Republicans have largely aimed their fire at the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy — a move that set the chain of events in motion. Lawmakers have called for them to be punished and have slammed them in public.
That group — led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — joined with Democrats to boot the Californian from his post Oct. 3, marking the first time the House ever successfully deposed a sitting Speaker. But despite bad blood and heightened rhetoric, members of the “crazy eight,” as McCarthy dubbed them, say they have no regrets.
“It was worth it,” Gaetz said Tuesday night. “I promised the American people that we would improve and upgrade the position of Speaker of the House. And when we elect Mike Johnson, I will have delivered on that commitment.”
Updated at 5:17 p.m.