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Trump ally Mike Johnson elected US House Speaker, shifting Republicans further right

Trump ally Mike Johnson elected US House Speaker, shifting Republicans further right
US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Mike Johnson, first elected to Congress in 2016 as Trump was swept into the White House, becomes Speaker with the least Washington experience in generations. However, unlike some of his more abrasive colleagues, he’s a ‘nice person who builds coalitions and doesn’t make people unnecessarily mad’.

Republicans installed little-known Trump ally Mike Johnson as US House speaker, cementing the party’s rightward shift and ending a messy three-week succession fight that paralysed legislative work.

His election on Wednesday, 25 October ends a historic struggle among GOP factions that ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy and derailed three potential successors. The bitter infighting prevented the House from acting on emergency aid for Israel and Ukraine and on funding to avert a US government shutdown next month.

The 51-year-old Louisiana congressman’s elevation is a victory for cultural and economic conservatives as the party navigates tensions between an emerging populist wing aligned with Donald Trump and establishment Republicans.

Johnson, first elected to Congress in 2016 as Trump was swept into the White House, becomes Speaker with the least Washington experience in generations. He takes on the role after the party repudiated the nominations of its second- and third-ranking leaders to succeed McCarthy.

“Democracy is messy sometimes, but it is our system,” Johnson said late on Tuesday after receiving the GOP nomination. “This conference that you see, this House Republican majority, is united.”

Johnson received 220 votes to House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries’ 209 votes.

He enters Washington’s ongoing budget battles as a fervent advocate of cutting spending. He once called the federal government a “monster” that should “starve” in a local radio interview and voted last month against short-term funding to prevent a government shutdown.

Hot seat

That deal is what McCarthy foes say launched their move to oust him on 3 October. Now, Johnson will be in a similar hot seat as the 17 November expiry of that temporary funding extension approaches.

In a letter this week to GOP legislators, however, he backed a temporary spending plan to keep the government open into next year, past the November deadline, to allow time for negotiations.

Though previously a sceptic of Ukraine aid, Johnson said he is open to talks on President Joe Biden’s request for more funding to assist the country’s counter-offensive against Russia.

He was a prominent supporter of Trump’s efforts to deny Biden’s 2020 election victory. Johnson objected to certification of the election results and played a key role in getting signatures for an amicus brief in the long-shot Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn election results in several states.

Trump earlier in the day threw his support behind Johnson, posting on his Truth Social platform his “strong SUGGESTION” that lawmakers elect the Louisiana Republican and “GET IT DONE, FAST!”.

Trump on Tuesday quashed the nomination of the third-ranking Republican leader, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, for the Speaker’s post. Emmer has had a frosty relationship with the former president since voting to certify Biden’s 2020 presidential win.

Trump’s support wasn’t enough to propel hardline conservative judiciary chairman Jim Jordan into the speakership. His nomination failed last week as moderates and traditionalists on the House appropriations panel refused to accept him.

Jordan’s combative style antagonised adversaries within the party. “On the other hand Johnson, who previously chaired Republicans’ largest ideological caucus, has a reputation as affable among colleagues.

“Mike has the least enemies in this caucus,” said Republican Ken Buck of Colorado. “He is just one of those nice people that builds coalitions and doesn’t make people unnecessarily mad.”

Johnson has strong ties to the Christian right stretching back to before he entered elective politics. He worked as a senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that works on behalf of “traditional family values”.

His legal work included successfully defending Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage before the state supreme court. The law was eventually revoked by the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling legalising same-sex marriage.

A former state legislator, he drew controversy as the sponsor of a religious freedom proposal that would have blocked local governments from imposing fines or revoking tax benefits on businesses that refuse to serve gay couples because of views on same-sex marriage.

Johnson holds strong anti-abortion views he says are rooted in his life story. “I was the product of an unplanned pregnancy and teenage parents,” he said at an April 2016 Louisiana House hearing. “I’m grateful I wasn’t aborted.”

Some Democrats said they expected little change from Republicans with Johnson as leader.

“Different waiter, same menu. Except more conservative,” said Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House rules committee. Bloomberg/DM

Gallery

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