House Republicans put their differences aside Wednesday to elect Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) the chamber’s 56th speaker, ending more than three weeks of infighting that have dominated the conference since the Oct. 3 ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Johnson, the first House speaker from Louisiana, received the backing of all 220 Republican members present for the first and only ballot.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) was the only House GOP lawmaker to miss the vote after he flew to Israel amid the Jewish state’s ongoing war with Hamas terrorists.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) received 209 votes from House Democrats, with three conference members absent — Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).
Johnson, 51, was the fourth candidate to be nominated in the 22 days following McCarthy’s departure, as Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) each won conference votes, but failed to secure the gavel.
Jordan failed in three successive speakership ballots last week, while Scalise and Emmer both withdrew before putting their candidacy up for a House floor vote.
The new speaker called for Republicans and Democrats “to find common ground” in his opening speech to the lower chamber and extended thanks to McCarthy for his previous nine months of service in the majority.
“My office is going to be known for trust, transparency and accountability, for good stewardship,” Johnson told members in his first remarks from the speaker’s chair, pledging to unite the warring factions of the GOP caucus.
“At one time, [Americans] had great pride in this institution, but that now is in jeopardy,” he said, noting conflicts abroad, a “broken” southern border and runaway federal spending.
In its first order of business with Johnson as speaker, the House passed a resolution affirming Israel’s right to self-defense by a vote of 412-10.
“Let the enemies of freedom around the world hear us loud and clear: The People’s House is back in business,” Johnson declared.
In a brief press conference following Johnson’s swearing in, Scalise recounted of his fellow Louisianan: “I have seen this man in action since I was a state representative.”
“For those people that don’t know Mike Johnson — maybe they’re looking to Google, maybe they’re looking to other places — but those of us who have known Mike Johnson for a long time,” Scalise said, “I’ve seen a commitment, a self-service commitment to things bigger than himself.”
“Mike is a strong man of faith, a constitutional conservative and a fierce fighter for a Republican common sense agenda,” added Emmer, calling on Johnson to take the lead in congressional negotiations and “force the Biden White House and Schumer Senate along with us as we govern.”
“He has been an important leader in our conference for nearly three years as vice chairman, and as speaker I know Mike will keep our majority united as we continue to deliver on the commitments we’ve made to our constituents.”
Johnson added that he was “humbled” by the show of support from his Republican colleagues and, in keeping with his Southern Baptist roots, quoted a verse from the Bible.
“I was reminded of a scripture that says suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character, and character produces hope,” he said. “What we need in this country is more hope.”
“We’ve gone through a little bit of character building,” Johnson added, referencing the more than three weeks of gridlock that have plagued his caucus, “and you know that has produced more strength, more perseverance and a lot of hope — and that’s what we’re about to deliver to the American people.”
President Biden congratulated Johnson after his election to the speakership and promised to work with him “in good faith on behalf of the American people, while urging the speaker “to move swiftly to address our national security needs and to avoid a shutdown in 22 days.”
“While House Republicans spent the last 22 days determining who would lead their conference, I have worked on those pressing issues, proposing a historic supplemental funding package that advances our bipartisan national security interests in Israel and Ukraine, secures our border, and invests in the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
“This is a time for all of us to act responsibly, and to put the good of the American people and the everyday priorities of American families above any partisanship.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement that “I look forward to meeting with Speaker Johnson soon to discuss the path forward to avoid a government shutdown. When I meet with him, I will convey that bipartisanship is the only way we can deliver results for the American people. The only way to avoid a government shutdown, pass critical supplemental funding, and deliver common-sense investments to the American people is bipartisanship.”
Ahead of the vote, Johnson rolled out an “ambitious schedule” to avert a partial shutdown on Nov. 17 by passing a series of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024, according to a copy shared by CNN.
If the marathon session of legislating proves too difficult, he pledged to support a stopgap measure to fund the government at current levels until Jan. 15 or April 15, if that is the consensus of the Republican conference.
Johnson stressed that his spending would “ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus.”
Passing such a stopgap bill, which is known as a continuing resolution, was one of the grievances cited by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in his call to vacate McCarthy’s speakership.
The hardline Florida Republican had accused McCarthy of striking “a secret side deal” with Biden to provide further US aid to Ukraine after the House passed a measure to fund the government on a bipartisan basis on Sept. 30.
Gaetz’s motion to vacate passed Oct. 3 with 208 Democrats and eight Republicans voting in support, elevating Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) into the speaker’s chair to preside over the House in the interim.
McHenry declined to move legislation during that time, saying he had consulted with the Parliamentarian of the House and been advised he did not have the authority.
Johnson also laid out his top priorities as speaker for the rest of the 118th Congress in his spending proposal, including negotiating with the Senate to pass defense spending for the next two fiscal years and passing the Farm Bill.
Further appropriations for energy and water development are expected to be debated and amended Wednesday afternoon.