Mike Johnson was elected the 56th Speaker of the House on Wednesday. It was worth the wait.
Tom Emmer stormed out of the still ongoing GOP conference meeting in a huff. Just hours prior, the Minnesotan Congressman had been named speaker-designate by his House Republican colleagues.
“[Emmer] just …… left. Said nothing,” tweeted Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News. Minutes later, news broke that Emmer had pulled his nomination to become the next Speaker of the House. He had prevailed over eight other candidates who vied for the conference’s nomination.
In the first ballot, Emmer received 78 votes, followed by Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the Republican conference vice chair, with 34, then Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida with 29, and Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma with 27. Emmer’s total climbed to 90 with the second ballot, with Johnson, Donalds, and Hern trailing in the same order but by a larger margin than the first. Emmer could taste victory on the third ballot when he hit 100 votes, then 107 votes on the fourth. Johnson was still 51 votes behind, but conservative votes, then split between Johnson, Donalds, and Hern, would be enough to make it competitive if channeled to a single candidate. On the final ballot, that candidate was Johnson, but Johnson fell 20 short of Emmer, who procured the nomination with 117 votes.
Though Emmer received the nomination, he performed worse in conference than Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio did the week prior. A roll call vote was necessary for Emmer to see how much work he had left to do to reach 217. The result was bad news for the Minnesotan: Twenty-six House Republicans said they said vote for another candidate on the House floor, which is one more than the number Jordan received on the final vote for his speaker bid.
Emmer sought to meet with his detractors and the House Republican conference would reconvene later that afternoon to determine if Emmer would take the fight to the floor. But Emmer’s conservative detractors would not budge, objecting to Emmer’s votes in favor of gay marriage, transgender soldiers, higher rates of immigration, the debt ceiling deal, and the September continuing resolution. Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia, for example, reportedly told Emmer that he didn’t need to get right with him but to “get right with Jesus” for supporting the Respect for Marriage Act.
At the time, a GOP aide told The American Conservative that if Emmer’s bid managed to make it to the floor, a cohort of conservatives were prepared to obstruct his efforts. As Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana told CNN’s Manu Raju, “I’m a conservative. I came to Washington to fight for conservative values. I can't go along with putting one of the most moderate members of the entire Republican conference in the speaker's chair.”
Former President Donald Trump, who initially seemed ambivalent to Emmer’s bid (and for Emmer’s part, he really tried to play up his relationship with the president), provided cover for the conservatives seeking to prevent Emmer from obtaining the gavel. “I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors. RINO Tom Emmer, who I do not know well, is not one of them,” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post. “He never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement, or the breadth and scope of MAGA—MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Just a half-hour after the conference meeting began at 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Emmer was out.
Republicans regrouped. Candidates had until 5:30 p.m. to declare their candidacy, and at 6 p.m., the conference would host another candidate forum. Six candidates declared: Johnson, Donalds, Hern, Reps. Chuck Fleischman and Mark Green of Tennessee, and Rep. Roger Williams of Texas. Before the conference was scheduled to vote, Hern dropped out and endorsed Johnson, narrowing the field to five. After three rounds of voting, Johnson had secured the nomination. That was the easy part, however: Johnson needed to see in a roll-call vote if he’d have enough support on the House floor. No members objected; only three members, Reps. Thomas Massie, Mark Amodei and French Hill, voted present; but 19 others were absent from the vote.
“Democracy is messy sometimes, but it is our system. This conference that you see, this House Republican majority is united,” Johnson said at a press conference surrounded by the House Republican caucus Tuesday night. “This is servant leadership. We’re going to serve the people of this country. We’re going to restore their faith in this Congress, this institution of government. America is the last, best hope of man on the earth. Abraham Lincoln said it, Ronald Reagan used to remind us all the time, and we’re here to remind you of that again. We’re going to restore your trust in what we do here.”
“Thank you for allowing us to go through the process,” Johnson added. “It was worth it.”
Overnight, Johnson was able to flip Massie and shore up the support needed. With a few absences, Johnson needed 215 votes to become the next Speaker of the House. The final tally was 220 for Johnson, 209 for Jeffries, zero others, zero present. He received every Republican vote in attendance, making him the first speaker to be voted in with unanimous support since John Boehner in 2011.
Johnson, a constitutional lawyer by training who represents a largely-rural district in western Louisiana, will undergo quite a large change in the next few days. He’ll be staffing up and moving some of his work space from the small vice conference chair office to the Speaker’s suite in the heart of the U.S. Capitol.
And he plans on hitting the ground running “to ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus,” Johnson wrote in a letter to House colleagues. Johnson knows the clock is ticking on the continuing resolution scheduled to expire on November 17. This week, he wants the House to tackle the Energy and Water appropriations bill, and next week, address appropriations for the legislative branch, the interior and environment, and THUD.
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Johnson’s voting record is strongly conservative. Whereas Emmer voted in favor of gay marriage, the continuing resolution, and more aid to Ukraine, Johnson voted against. He’s not a Republican that agrees with the party on markets and merely tolerates social conservative members of the party: he’s one of them. As Johnson wrote in a document called “7 Core Principles of Conservatism,” "A just government protects life, honors marriage and family as the primary institutions of a healthy society, and embraces the vital cultural influences of religion and morality."
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, quoting Johnson, put it simply in a tweet: “It was worth it.”