The Republicans did it: Mike Johnson was elected as the new “Speaker” on the fourth attempt. The lawyer is considered inexperienced – but has a decisive advantage compared to others.
Mike Johnson was only the fourth choice to lead the U.S. House of Representatives. And the media reports that perhaps the Republican’s greatest asset, who is largely unknown to the public, is that he hasn’t made any big enemies yet. Now the supporter of former President Donald Trump has been elected to the third highest office in the USA – after three chaotic weeks of blocking the House of Representatives.
That’s probably why the arch-conservative representative from the southern state of Louisiana received so much applause from across parties on Wednesday during his first speech as the newly elected “Speaker”: Republicans and Democrats alike are hugely relieved that the House of Representatives is now able to act again.
President Joe Biden needs Congress to initiate new military aid for Israel and Ukraine and to avert a budget freeze looming as early as mid-November. And the Republicans were eager to finally end their infighting, which had not only cost the previous chairman Kevin McCarthy the office, but also destroyed three nominated successor candidates.
Who is Mike Johnson?
It was these chaotic circumstances that brought the political nobody Johnson from the parliamentary shadow into the spotlight of the “Speaker” office. Tired of self-destruction, Republicans who have a narrow majority in the House of Representatives voted unanimously for him on Wednesday.
The 51-year-old lawyer and former radio presenter from the state of Louisiana has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2017. The father of four is an evangelical Christian. Johnson has so far been part of the extended Republican caucus leadership, but is largely unknown on the national stage and has not even chaired a committee in the House of Representatives.
Even party colleagues made no secret of the fact that Johnson has comparatively little experience for the position. “He’s going to have to learn a little bit,” Republican Tom Cole told the Washington Post. Another unnamed parliamentarian was quoted as saying: “His record is not great.”
Johnson is a hardliner in terms of content, but appears more moderate in style than others and has not developed any personal enmities within the group – in contrast to more prominent faces from the right-wing fringe.
Above all, he has an important advocate: Donald Trump. The former US president, who had openly opposed a previous more moderate candidate, campaigned for Johnson. Democrats argued that the candidate selection was solely about appeasing Trump. The Democratic Party headquarters described Johnson as a “puppet who dances to Trump’s tune in the House of Representatives.”
Where does Johnson stand politically?
Johnson belongs to the religious right of his group, is an opponent of abortion and rejects same-sex marriage. He is one of Trump’s loyal supporters. At the time, Johnson refused to recognize Trump’s defeat against Biden in the 2020 presidential election and supported Trump’s efforts through legal means to subsequently reverse the election result. Johnson was also on the defense team at Trump’s impeachment trial.
He is also known for a tough stance on immigration policy, promotes the free market economy and is a hardliner when it comes to fiscal policy. During his inaugural speech on Wednesday, he described the country’s mountain of debt as “the greatest threat to our national security.”
This does not bode well for the upcoming budget negotiations with the White House, which are intended to prevent an impending shutdown in mid-November. And while Johnson immediately promised new aid for Israel from the House Speaker’s desk, he made no mention of Ukraine, which was attacked by Russia.
Radical MPs, including the eight MPs who initiated McCarthy’s overthrow, celebrated Johnson’s election – also as a sign of a strengthening of the right wing. In fact, the personnel shows how far the Republican faction in the House of Representatives has moved to the right and what influence Trump has there.
Chaos in the House of Representatives
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The ex-president was unable to prevail with his dream hardliner Jim Jordan, for whom he had campaigned. But Trump impressively demonstrated his ability to cause chaos and steer the electoral process by speaking in one direction or the other. It is questionable whether the less experienced Johnson will be able to permanently end the chaos and hold the further fragmented faction together in the coming votes.
Temporary end to weeks of chaos
The previous chairman of the parliamentary chamber, Kevin McCarthy, was voted out of office in a historic vote at the beginning of October. Radical Republicans had driven him out of office. Afterwards, the parliamentary chamber descended into chaos: the deeply divided Republican faction was unable to agree on a new frontman. Three candidates ahead of Johnson dropped out because they lacked support within their own ranks – two of them before there was even a vote in the plenary session. Republican Jim Jordan endured three unsuccessful rounds of voting in the chamber before his caucus removed him from the race. In the meantime, legislative work in the chamber was largely at a standstill, which brought a lot of criticism from Republicans.
Republican lawmakers have also expressed increasing frustration and anger in recent days. The group therefore tried to send a signal of unity and unanimously elected Johnson to the top post at his first attempt. After his election, Johnson assured that the group was now united and emerging stronger from the turbulence. “We learned a lot of lessons,” he said. “Adversity makes you stronger.” The House of Representatives is now back and his group will work hard, show teamwork and deliver for the American people.
A mountain of tasks
In fact, the parliamentary chamber has a lot to do. Congress must pass a new budget by mid-November, otherwise there is a risk of government business coming to a standstill – a “shutdown”. Then a transitional budget expires. Parliament must also address the Gaza war and the long-term conflict in Ukraine. Last week, US President Joe Biden requested an aid package worth more than 100 billion US dollars (around 94.5 billion euros) from Congress, which includes support for Ukraine and Israel. But it is questionable whether Congress will agree. A growing number of Republicans are increasingly critical of the aid to Kiev or even reject it completely. Johnson himself has opposed US aid to the country attacked by Russia in the past.
The USA is Ukraine’s most important supporter in the defense against Russia. Due to pressure from parts of the Republican faction, the adopted transition budget does not provide for any further aid for the country. And the money for Kiev previously approved by Congress is running out, so new funds are urgently needed. It is unclear whether Ukraine can expect early aid from a House of Representatives under Johnson’s leadership. This in turn could have a significant impact on the course of the war.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.