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House Republican Conference Elects Rep. Mike Johnson as New Speaker

Lance Moore

On Oct. 25th, 2023, the House Republican Conference unanimously elected ultra-conservative four-term Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-4) to replace ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) after three grueling (and some say embarrassing) weeks of infighting and long-held rivalries boiling to the surface between warring factions of the Republican Party. Rep. Johnson was nominated as the fourth speaker-designee earlier this week after three others failed to secure the gavel, coming well short of the 217 votes needed; majority leader Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-1), firebrand Make America Great Again (MAGA) Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-4), and majority whip Tom Emmer (MN-6).

The House Republican race to find and elect a new speaker all began a little over three weeks ago on Oct. 3rd when MAGA Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-1) decided to file a motion to vacate (MTV) on then-Speaker McCarthy, who brought to the House floor a "clean" short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), just hours before funding for the federal government was set to run out (the CR is set to expire on Nov. 17th). The CR was seen as a capitulation to Democrats by McCarthy, as it did not include many of the domestic spending cuts championed by conservatives. Rep. Gaetz also claimed he was forced to file the MTV because McCarthy "didn't follow through on many of the commitments he made to win the speaker's job," and that McCarthy is "a feature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favors". Gaetz was successful in his bid to oust McCarthy when seven other Republicans decided to join Gaetz in voting against McCarthy. 

So, after three weeks of a very public and domestic instability between the factions of the House Republican Conference, the U.S. House of Representatives now has a new speaker in Johnson, who was relatively unknown before his ascendancy to second in line of succession to the Presidency, behind the Vice President. Among his colleagues, Speaker Johnson is known as polite and cordial. 

But who is Speaker Johnson, and what are his politics? 

As it turns out, he is as MAGA as they come, often referred to as "Jim Jordan with a jacket and a smile". As a staunch hard-right ally of Former President Donald Trump, Speaker Johnson was one of the primary ringleaders within the House Conference in the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. After Trump's defeat to President Joe Biden, the Attorney General of the state of Texas, Ken Paxton and other Attorney Generals from red states, filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results of four Biden-won states, which would have thrown out over twenty million votes and sent the election to the House of Representatives. Speaker Johnson, a former constitutional litigator, organized dozens of House Republicans to join the lawsuit. Legal scholars considered the case as an unserious and unlikely longshot, and the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit outright. 

However, this is only the beginning of the controversies surrounding the new Speaker. Johnson is also widely regarded as the GOP's most social conservative of the modern era. As an outspoken Christian nationalist, who is on record for regularly arguing to erase the line separating church and state completely, also cosponsored a federal abortion ban in all 50 states, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother's health. He has also introduced multiple pieces of legislation to strip LGTBQ rights at both a state and federal level. Speaker Johnson also vehemently opposes any sort of gun control legislation and has regularly mocked the idea of man-caused climate change. 

With this sort of background, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Speaker Johnson's history may not only put him at odds with House Democrats, but also "moderate" Republicans in swing or Biden-won districts, who are sure to feel increasingly vulnerable at being associated with the MAGA wing of the House Republican Conference. His ascension to the speakership comes at a time when many agree that the world appears to be "on fire". On the domestic front, the recent short-term CR passed under former Speaker McCarthy (with help from House Democrats), as previously mentioned, is set to expire on Nov. 17th. The House Republican Conference took a little over three weeks to decide on a speaker, which has left only limited time to pass a new short-time CR to avert the increasing likelihood of a government shutdown.

On the foreign policy front, the issue of continued funding for Ukraine in its war to defeat Russia; support for Israel in its new war against Palestinian Hamas; military support for the Indo-Pacific (particularly Taiwan); and funding for border security, are all top line agenda items Speaker Johnson will now have to face head-on. President Biden recently unveiled and sent a $105 billion foreign policy and national security proposal addressing these issues to Congress. With bipartisan support from the Senate, notably from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Johnson's policy stances will likely also put him at odds with many of the Senate GOP (Speaker Johnson is against further Ukraine funding support).

As with any new leader, time will tell if Speaker Johnson can rise to the occasion to meet the many challenges he will immediately face at the start of his tenure as leader of the House legislative body. There is always hope that the weight of his new role will allow for some flexibility and willingness to maneuver through these issues positively and effectively. Given his track record, though, America shouldn't hold its breath. The GOP-inspired chaos will probably continue. 

Image: The Hill

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