Republicans Finally Pick a Speaker, 22 Days Later

Republicans Finally Pick a Speaker, 22 Days Later

This is Mike Johnson. He is now speaker of the House.
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, October 25, 2023

It took more than three weeks, but Republicans have finally elected a new speaker of the House. As a famous therapist once said: Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?

Republicans Elect Mike Johnson as Speaker, Ending 22-Day Impasse

After 22 days of disarray, legislative inaction and failed nominations, Republicans in the House of Representatives have finally — and unanimously — elected a new speaker: Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana.

The 51-year-old Johnson was sworn in as the 56th speaker of the House Wednesday after winning a floor vote with 220 Republican votes to 209 votes for Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. While the election marks the end to the three-week-long national embarrassment of the Republican speaker fight, Johnson’s work is only beginning.

“The challenge before us is great but the time for action is now and I will not let you down,” he said after accepting the gavel. “I think all of the American people at one time had great pride in this institution, but right now that’s in jeopardy. And we have a challenge before us right now to rebuild and restore that trust.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement that he would seek to work with Johnson in good faith. "Even though we have real disagreements about important issues, there should be mutual effort to find common ground wherever we can,” Biden said. “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.”

But a spokesperson for Biden’s 2024 campaign said in a statement that the congressman’s ascension “cements the extreme MAGA takeover of the House Republican Conference.” Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who instigate the vote to oust former speaker Kevin McCarthy, sounded a similar note, telling Steve Bannon’s podcast: “If you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.”

Who is Mike Johnson? Johnson was first elected to Congress in 2016 and had been vice chairman of the House Republican Conference and a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees. He was formerly the chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

He is more conservative than McCarthy and less of a rabble-rouser than Rep. Jim Jordan, a previous GOP nominee for the gavel. “He’s known to carry a copy of the Constitution and harbors big dreams on spending cuts and social issues that don’t stand a chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate,” Politico reports.

But while Johnson has strong right-wing credentials, he has relatively little in the way of House leadership experience and no significant national profile. He was Republicans’ fourth choice to succeed McCarthy and will face serious questions about whether he can lead the fractious House GOP conference.

“Apparently experience isn’t necessary for the speaker job,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said. “We’re down to folks who haven’t had leadership or chairmanship role which means their administration of the House will be a new experience for them.”

Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from the speakership, told CNN that Johnson was chosen “probably because he has the fewest enemies of anybody in the Republican conference,” adding that, “Mike is one of those people who gets along with everybody and he’s well-respected, and I think those two factors played a big role in this.”

Democratic leaders criticized Johnson’s record, while still insisting that they remain open to working in a bipartisan fashion. Appearing on CNN, Jeffries said that he doesn’t know Johnson well. “Based on his track record, he appears to be an extreme right-wing ideologue,” he said. “Mike Johnson wants to criminalize abortion care and impose a nationwide ban. Mike Johnson was one of the chief architects of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Mike Johnson also wants to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it. Those are extreme views and House Democrats will push back aggressively against that.”

Rep. Pete Aguilar, the No. 3 House Democrat, charged that Republicans’ speaker turmoil was about appeasing Donald Trump, to which one Republican in the chamber shouted, “Damn right!”

Johnson’s vote against certifying the 2020 election and his role in trying to deny President Joe Biden’s win will likely continue to be an issue, even as the new speaker and Republicans try to avoid it. “House Republicans have put their names behind someone who has been called the most important architect of the electoral college objections,” Aguilar said.

Can he avoid a government shutdown? In his first speech after being elected, Johnson pledged to rein in federal spending and establish a bipartisan commission to address the national debt. “The greatest threat to our national security is our nation’s debt,” he said.

One of Johnson’s first tasks will be to fund the government ahead of a November 17 deadline. In a letter to colleagues reported by CNN, Johnson said his first priority would be to pass the eight remaining annual spending bills — though, given the short time before the deadline, he also proposed a stopgap measure that would extend funding until January 15 or April 15, depending on what House Republicans want, allowing more time for lawmakers to pass the annual appropriations. Johnson reportedly has yet to lay out whether his stopgap will include the spending cuts that conservatives have demanded.

House conservatives rebelled against McCarthy after he cut a deal with Democrats earlier this year to raise the debt limit. They then ousted McCarthy when he put forth a short-term funding bill at the end of September that relied on Democratic votes to avert a government shutdown (Johnson voted against that spending bill). But House hardliners are reportedly more open to compromise under Johnson than they had been under McCarthy, at least for the moment.

“There is a new level of trust with Speaker Johnson that did not exist previously,” Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, one of the lawmakers who voted to remove McCarthy, told CNN. “That’s why we have a new speaker.”

And Gaetz told Politico that “with Mike Johnson, there is a sincerity to get us to the single-subject bills that was illusory under McCarthy.”

The new speaker will ultimately face the same predicament as the old one, though: The Senate is still controlled by Democrats and Democratic votes will be needed to avert a shutdown and enact new spending bills. Aguilar summed it up this way: “We are back here 22 days into this Republican-manufactured chaos and House Republicans have brought us to the exact same position that we were back then. All of the infighting, all of the disarray, just to end up where we were three weeks ago.”

Biden Requests $16 Billion for Child Care, $23 Billion for Disaster Relief

The White House is asking Congress for $16 billion to fund child-care programs in the current fiscal year, along with $23 billion for natural disaster relief. The request is part of a roughly $50 billion supplemental package the Biden administration is sending to lawmakers to address a variety of domestic needs.

The $16 billion request is intended to stabilize funding for more than 225,000 child-care providers across the country, with state-level grants ranging from $15 million in Wyoming to $1.8 billion in Texas, The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai reported Wednesday. Many of those providers received a boost from the record $24 billion provided by Congress for child care during the pandemic, but that funding expired at the end of the 2023 fiscal year in September, leading to concerns about the ability of child-care centers to remain open.

The larger $50 billion request for domestic purposes comes in the wake of the $106 billion request made by the White House last week for foreign aid, including assistance for Israel and Ukraine. However, the domestic funding package faces an even more difficult path politically than the foreign aid one, and it may serve a political purpose more than a practical one.

“They can put something out there to say, ‘We want child care or maybe something on health care and homelessness,’ but they know they’re not going to get anything through this Congress beyond maybe something small,” Dean Baker, an economist at the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the Post. “But I think it makes sense for Biden to throw something out there when Republicans are saying that Democrats care more about people in Ukraine and Israel than they do about the people here.”

Number of the Day: 50%

Half of all Americans say that the increase of the price of goods has been “very stressful” over the past two months, according to data from the Census Household Pulse Survey taken between September 20 and October and highlighted by Heather Long of The Washington Post Wednesday. Another 44% say inflation has been “moderately stressful” or “a little stressful,” with just 4% saying it hasn’t been stressful at all. Long notes that the inflation rate has dropped significantly from its highs in 2022, but the data suggests that price hikes remain a problem for many Americans.

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