Chaos is a ladder—and Rep. Mike Johnson (R–La.) has successfully climbed it.
Johnson was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in a narrow 220-209 vote on Wednesday afternoon, capping an unprecedented three-week period where the House did not have a speaker following the ejection of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) from the top role. Since then, several more prominent Republicans have tried and failed to secure the speakership. Johnson, a relatively new and low-ranking member to make the jump to speaker, ultimately captured the prize by securing support from the right-wing faction that deposed McCarthy and the centrists that blocked the ascendency of other alternatives like Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio).
"Until yesterday, I had never contacted one person about this, and I have never before aspired to the office," Johnson posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday night, shortly after announcing his candidacy for speaker.
But Johnson had to wait through more chaos before becoming the unlikely front-runner for the post. He won an internal Republican vote on Tuesday night to become the fourth speaker-designee since McCarthy was booted on October 3. In the aftermath of that vote, even many Republicans who hadn't supported Johnson signaled their willingness to vote for him and end the circus that has consumed the House this month.
Perhaps the most important show of support for Johnson came from former President Donald Trump, who posted on Truth Social that he "strongly" suggested Republicans back Johnson's bid. On Tuesday, Trump played a significant role in killing the speakership bid of Rep. Tom Emmer (R–Minn.), clearing the way for the late-night vote that put Johnson on the path to victory Wednesday.
Prior to Wednesday's vote, Johnson served as the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. Johnson, 51, was first elected to Congress in 2016 and has never chaired a committee. He became a close ally of Trump's and served on the defense team during both of Trump's impeachments.
Johnson also played a vocal role in supporting Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In October 2022, The New York Times called Johnson "the most important architect of the Electoral College objections" that were at the center of Trump's last-ditch effort to stop President Joe Biden from being declared the election's winner by Congress. The Times notes that Johnson's objections were based on constitutional and legal issues, not flagrantly false claims of voter fraud. He led a House Republican effort to lend support to at least one lawsuit that aimed to overturn the election results in several states.
But what Johnson does next is probably more important than anything he did in 2020 and 2021. There are now just three weeks until the current continuing resolution will expire, leaving scant time for the new speaker to negotiate with the Senate and Biden administration over the federal government's next major budget bill.
And it remains unclear whether Johnson has made political promises that will further complicate that already fraught process. In a statement released Wednesday, moderate Rep. Andrew R. Garbarino (R–N.Y.), said in a statement that he would support Johnson because the new speaker "acknowledges that providing [state and local tax] relief is critical for middle-class Americans burdened by double taxation and must be addressed in any tax bill the House considers." As I've previously covered, that would be a foolish fiscal and political trade-off for any new speaker to make.
Even with all those issues swirling around the House, Johnson's election to the top post probably has a good bit more to do with personalities than policies. He won "probably because he has the fewest enemies of anyone in the Republican conference," Rep. Ken Buck (R–Colo.) told CNN as the votes for Johnson were still being tallied up.
That's far from a ringing endorsement—but after three weeks of nonsense in the House, it'll have to do.
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