(CNN) — The Republican-led House elected Rep. Mike Johnson as the new House speaker on Wednesday – a major leadership change that comes three weeks after the historic ouster of Kevin McCarthy. Johnson, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and a key congressional figure in the failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election, will now take the reins of the bitterly divided House Republican majority and faces the looming threat of a government shutdown next month.
Johnson’s elevation puts an end to the paralysis the House had been stuck in after McCarthy was pushed out by hardline conservatives – an unprecedented move that plunged the chamber into uncharted territory. Republicans tried and failed three separate times to coalesce behind a new speaker nominee before ultimately uniting around Johnson, a conservative lawmaker who has so far had a relatively low profile on the national stage. In a remarkable show of unity following weeks of fierce GOP infighting, the Louisiana Republican was elected with 220 votes and no Republican defections.
The new speaker will now face a litany of pressing issues. Government funding is set to expire on November 17, and the GOP-controlled House will need to work with the Democratic-led Senate to avert a shutdown, setting up an early leadership test for Johnson. Lawmakers must also decide whether to send further aid to Ukraine as it fights a war against Russian aggression as well as aid to Israel in its war against Hamas. There is widespread bipartisan support for aid to Israel, but many House Republicans are opposed to sending additional aid to Ukraine.
Hours after the speaker election, the House passed a resolution in support of Israel in its war against Hamas. The measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 412 to 10.
Johnson, fresh off his victory on the House floor, said he will pursue an “aggressive schedule” in the weeks ahead and alluded to the chaos that had paralyzed the House and distracted from the GOP agenda.
“You’re going to see an aggressive schedule in the days and weeks ahead. You’re gonna see Congress working as hard as it’s ever worked and we are going to deliver for the American people,” he said.
“We’ve gone through a little bit of suffering. We’ve gone through a little bit of character building, and you know what has produced more strength, more perseverance and a lot of hope, and that’s what we’re about to deliver to the American people,” he said.
Johnson was first elected to the House in 2016 and has previously served as vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. A Trump ally, he supported objections to Electoral College results when Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s presidential win on January 6, 2021 – the day a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the election. He also lobbied fellow House Republicans to support a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the election. A reporter was loudly booed by House GOP members for asking Johnson after he became the speaker-designate if he stands by his decision to support overturning the election.
New speaker takes over following weeks of chaos
The fight for the speaker’s gavel has opened new rifts among House Republicans and deepened old ones. Republicans rallied around Johnson in a display of unity, but it remains to be seen how long that will hold.
Johnson secured the nomination for the speakership late Tuesday evening in a vote that capped off a chaotic day that started with Republicans picking Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer to be their latest nominee only for him to drop out hours later after facing stiff resistance from the right flank of the conference and a rebuke from Trump. After winning the party nomination, Emmer faced swift opposition from the right flank of his conference as well as a rebuke from Trump. In a post on Truth Social, Trump called Emmer a “Globalist RINO,” and said that voting for him “would be a tragic mistake.”
Emmer was the third Republican to win the GOP nomination only to then exit the race after failing to lock up the necessary votes to win the gavel, following Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise also of Louisiana.
Jordan, who is known as Trump ally and a fierce conservative agitator, took his fight for the speakership to the House floor in a bid to put members on the record – but failed to secure the gavel in three separate rounds of voting that saw him lose more support with each ballot.
Some Republicans who opposed Jordan decried what they described as a pressure campaign against them by allies of the Ohio Republican. And several Republicans who opposed Jordan’s speakership bid said they experienced angry calls, menacing messages and even death threats since casting their votes. Jordan condemned the threats.
Even as he faced stiff resistance, Jordan vowed repeatedly to continue his fight. But after his third failed floor vote, the House GOP conference voted internally to push him out of the race in a dramatic turn of events. Jordan’s failure to win the gavel highlighted the limits of Trump’s influence in the speaker’s race after the former president endorsed Jordan.
As Republicans failed to coalesce around successive candidates, frustration and tensions within the conference intensified and frequently spilled out into public view as members lamented the impasse and questioned whether anyone could secure enough support to win the gavel given the GOP’s narrow majority.
Johnson emerges as new GOP leader
Johnson has a background as a staunch conservative Republican and an ardent Trump supporter.
After the election was called in favor of Joe Biden on November 7, 2020, Johnson posted on X, then known as Twitter, “I have just called President Trump to say this: ‘Stay strong and keep fighting, sir! The nation is depending upon your resolve. We must exhaust every available legal remedy to restore Americans’ trust in the fairness of our election system.’”
Johnson serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He is also a former chair of the Republican Study Committee.
As CNN’s KFILE has reported, Johnson has a history of harsh anti-gay language from his time as an attorney for a socially conservative legal group in the mid-2000s.
In editorials that ran in his local Shreveport, Louisiana, paper, The Times, Johnson called homosexuality an “inherently unnatural” and “dangerous lifestyle” that would lead to legalized pedophilia and possibly even destroy “the entire democratic system.”
In another editorial, he wrote, “Your race, creed, and sex are what you are, while homosexuality and cross-dressing are things you do. This is a free country, but we don’t give special protections for every person’s bizarre choices.”
At the time, Johnson was an attorney and spokesman for Alliance Defense Fund, known today as Alliance Defending Freedom, where he also authored his opposition to the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas – which overturned state laws that criminalized homosexual activity between consenting adults.
In 2022, Johnson also introduced a bill that some have described as a national version of what critics have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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