Mike Johnson, a staunch Louisiana conservative, is elected House speaker as GOP moves past chaos

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks after he was chosen as the Republicans latest nominee for House speaker at a Republican caucus meeting Tuesday at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — Republicans unanimously elected Rep. Mike Johnson as House speaker on Wednesday, eagerly elevating a deeply conservative but lesser-known leader to the major seat of U.S. power and ending for now the weeks of political chaos in their majority.

Johnson, 51, of Louisiana, swept through on the first ballot with support from all Republicans anxious to put the past weeks of tumult behind and get on with the business of governing. He was quickly sworn into office, second in line to the presidency.

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“The people’s House is back in business,” Johnson declared after taking the gavel.

A lower-ranked member of the House GOP leadership team, Johnson emerged as the fourth Republican nominee in what had become an almost absurd cycle of political infighting since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as GOP factions jockeyed for power. While not the party’s top choice for the gavel, the deeply religious and even-keeled Johnson has few foes and an important GOP backer: Donald Trump.

“I think he’s gonna be a fantastic speaker,” Trump said Wednesday at the New York courthouse where the former president, who is now the Republican front-runner for president in 2024, is on trial over a lawsuit alleging business fraud.

Three weeks on without a House speaker, the Republicans have been wasting their majority status — a maddening embarrassment to some, democracy in action to others, but not at all how the House is expected to function.

President Joe Biden called to congratulate the new speaker and said it’s “time for all of us to act responsibly” with challenges ahead to fund the government and provide aid for Ukraine and Israel.

“We need to move swiftly,” the president said in a statement.

In the House, far-right members had refused to accept a more traditional speaker, and moderate conservatives didn’t want a hard-liner. While Johnson had no opponents during a private party roll call late Tuesday, some two dozen Republicans did not vote, more than enough to sink his nomination.

But when GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik rose to introduce Johnson’s name Wednesday as their nominee, Republicans jumped to their feet for a standing ovation.

“House Republicans and Speaker Mike Johnson will never give up,” she said.

Democrats again nominated their leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, criticizing Johnson as an architect of Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election he lost to Democrat Biden.

With Republicans controlling the House only 221-212 over Democrats, Johnson could afford just a few detractors to win the gavel. He won 220-209, with a few absences.

Jeffries said House Democrats will find “common ground” work with Republicans whenever possible for the “good of the country.”

Lawmakers quickly reconvened to get back to work, approving a resolution saying the House “stands with Israel” and “condemns Hamas’ brutal war.” Next, they turned to a stalled government funding bill.

Overnight the endorsements for Johnson started pouring in, including from the failed speaker hopefuls. Rep. Jim Jordan, the hard-charging Judiciary Committee chairman backed by Trump, gave his support, as did Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the fellow Louisiana congressman rejected by Jordan’s wing.

“Mike! Mike! Mike!” lawmakers chanted at a press conference after the late-night internal vote, surrounding Johnson and posing for selfies.

Anxious and exhausted, Republican lawmakers are desperately trying to move on.

Johnson’s rise comes after a tumultuous month, capped by a head-spinning Tuesday that within a span of a few hours saw one candidate, Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP Whip, nominated and then quickly withdraw when it became clear he would be the third candidate unable to secure enough support from GOP colleagues after Trump bashed his nomination.

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