House Republicans sounded downright buoyant on Tuesday night after they tapped Rep. Mike Johnson as their latest speaker nominee.
“This House Republican majority is united,” the Louisiana lawmaker told reporters, standing amid a cheering crowd of colleagues who earlier on had chanted his name. Asked if he could nail down the 217 votes needed to cinch the job, Johnson simply said he was “very confident.”
Much of the optimism was due to the fact that not a single Republican opposed Johnson during the final roll call vote on his nomination. “He has broad support across the conference,” Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas told Semafor. Because 22 members were absent from the vote, and 3 voted present, it is still technically an open question whether Johnson will have the numbers to win on the floor Wednesday. But hopes are high.
“Mike’s going to work throughout the evening, and I’m confident he’ll get the 217,” Rep. Marcus Molinaro, R-N.Y. told Semafor.
Johnson has so far managed to do what until now had seemed impossible, by winning enthusiastic support from both the hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus as well as more establishment-oriented Republicans who opposed Rep. Jim Jordan’s nomination last week.
“I did not support the removal of Kevin McCarthy. I think it was arguably the stupidest move ever made in politics. But we have to move forward,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., who helped block Jordan’s bid, told CNN. “And so we’re going to rally around Mike Johnson and elect him speaker tomorrow and get back to work”
The conference’s vice chair, Johnson has been a low-key presence in the Republican conference. But he is known as a skilled legislator and a staunch conservative, as well as a solid ally of Donald Trump’s.
Johnson was a member of the former president’s defense team during his first impeachment trial, and was later described by the New York Times as the “most important architect” of the legal arguments House GOP members cited when they objected to the 2020 election results on Jan. 6. On social issues, he’s opposed to gay marriage, and sponsored what critics described as a national “don’t say gay” bill, banning federal funds from being used to teach LGBTQ issues to young children.
Johnson is also generally well-liked — no small factor in a GOP conference often riven by interpersonal drama. “He’s unfailingly polite,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. told one reporter. “He’s smart. He’s a listener. He respects people and he’s honest. And he has a good grasp of how this place works.”
If he does become speaker, Johnson will face a daunting to-do list, starting with potential aide packages for Israel and Ukraine. (He waved off a reporter’s question on the issue Tuesday, saying “we’re not doing policy tonight.”) And he’ll be tasked with the difficult task of striking a budget deal, with a potential shutdown looming next month.
But members already appear ready to cut him some slack on issues that tripped up McCarthy, such as temporarily funding the government to keep it open during budget talks. “If a stop-gap funding effort is needed for, you know, a temporary mechanism given the short timeline we have, I think that there probably will be a significant amount of support in the conference for it,” Rep. Chip Roy, a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters.
Johnson’s nomination came at the end of a strange, winding day that initially saw Republicans tap Majority Whip Tom Emmer for the speaker’s chair. His nomination lasted just four hours, thanks to pushback from old political rivals, gay marriage opponents, and — most importantly of all — Donald Trump, who strafed him in a Truth Social post as a “globalist RINO” who “never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement.”
Later, rumors swirled that McCarthy was attempting to mount a comeback. Allies briefly floated a plan in which he’d be restored to his old post, with Jordan brought on as assistant speaker. As many pointed out, it sounded like a joke from The Office. But later, during the night’s closed door conference vote, dozens of members began writing in McCarthy’s name on their secret ballots.
“Kevin McCarthy did everything he could to scuttle Mike Johnson,” Rep. Matt Gaetz told reporters. “Without announcing his candidacy, he had like 40 people vote for him to try to create a ballast against anybody getting to 217 votes, but we smoked them out.”
Gaetz has spent much of the past month under attack from his GOP colleagues for leading the effort to overthrow McCarthy earlier this month, which yielded weeks of embarrassing chaos for the party. His final verdict, after Johnson was nominated? “It was worth it.”
The View From A Potential Holdout
Despite the pep rally atmosphere that followed after Johnson’s nomination, not every member is ready to line up behind him just yet. “I voted no on Jim Jordan ‘cause he wouldn’t commit to certain things. I want those commitments from Johnson,” one member told Politico.