WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives elected Republican Mike Johnson, a conservative with little leadership experience, as its speaker on Wednesday (Oct 25) after a turbulent three weeks that left the rudderless chamber unable to respond to the Middle East crisis or carry out any of its basic duties.The 220 to 209 vote elevated third-term congressman Johnson, 51, to a speaker’s chair that has been vacant since Kevin McCarthy was ousted on Oct 3 by a small group of hardline Republicans angry about a deal with Democrats that averted a partial government shutdown.In the weeks that followed, Republicans who narrowly control the House considered and rejected three possible replacements before settling on Johnson, a Louisiana lawyer backed by former President Donald Trump who spent years advancing conservative policies like school prayer.
“We want our allies around the world to know that this body of lawmakers are reporting again to our duty stations,” Johnson, 51, said shortly after winning the speaker’s gavel.
He said he would soon call up legislation to signal support for Israel, which has stepped up its bombings of Gaza following a cross-border killing and kidnapping spree by Hamas militants early this month.
President Joe Biden called for the newly elected speaker to act quickly on approving military aid for Israel and Ukraine.”We need to move swiftly to address our national security needs and to avoid a shutdown in 22 days,” Biden said in a statement congratulating Johnson on his election after weeks of gridlock.”Even though we have real disagreements about important issues, there should be mutual effort to find common ground wherever we can. This is a time for all of us to act responsibly.”
First elected in 2016, Johnson will be the least experienced House speaker in decades. He is best known as the author of an unsuccessful appeal by 126 House Republicans after the 2020 presidential election to get the Supreme Court to overturn election results in states that Trump had lost.Johnson declined to answer a question about that effort shortly after his nomination on Tuesday night, while other Republicans booed and heckled the reporter who asked it.
Commentary: Ouster of US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy highlights deeper dysfunction in the Republican Party
AVOIDING A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
In a letter to colleagues, Johnson has vowed to advance overdue spending legislation and ensure that the US government does not shut down when current funding expires on Nov 17.He will also have to respond to Democratic President Joe Biden’s US$106 billion spending request for aid to Israel, Ukraine and US border security. While his Republicans broadly support funding for Israel and the US border, they are divided over further support for Ukraine.While House leaders typically focus on fundraising and vote counting, Johnson is better known as an advocate for conservative social positions.He has supported legislation that bars gender-related surgery and hormone treatment for transgender teens, prohibits mask mandates on airplanes, and tightens immigration and abortion restrictions.Republicans narrowly control the House by a 221-212 margin, leaving them with little room for error on controversial votes. Their divisions were on display over the past few weeks, as they nominated three candidates for speaker – Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer – but were unable to provide the 217 votes needed to win the speaker’s gavel.As speaker, Johnson will have to confront the same challenges that felled McCarthy and stymied his would-be successors. They include the demands of the caucus’ hardline members and the reality that with a Democratic majority in the Senate and Biden occupying the Oval Office, no laws can currently be passed in Washington without bipartisan support.