Texas Republicans unite to elect Mike Johnson as U.S. House Speaker

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-LA, speaks to reporters after securing the nomination for House speaker from the Republican conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 24, 2023. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

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WASHINGTON — Texas Republicans rallied together to elect Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana to be U.S. House Speaker on Wednesday, ending a tumultuous three weeks that highlighted the divisions within the Republican conference.

Johnson, whose Shreveport-based district covers most of the state’s border with Texas, is a deeply Christian conservative member who won his party’s nomination in a late-night vote Tuesday. He won a House-wide vote Wednesday of 220-209 on party lines.

All Democrats voted for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, expressing concern with Johnson’s central role in the Republican challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, missed the vote due to a death in the family.

The speaker vote ended a dramatic saga that started with the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the beginning of the month by members of his own party. The House was then leaderless until Johnson’s election, stalling legislation and delaying negotiations on government funding.

Winning the support of the entire Texas Republican delegation reflected his popularity within the ideologically diverse Republican conference. House Republicans burned through three speaker-nominees, each incapable of securing the full party’s support, before electing Johnson.

Two Texans made formal bids for the job: U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Waco and Roger Williams of Willow Park. Both were cut in early voting stages and eventually backed Johnson. U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock also flirted with a bid but decided against running.

Johnson is an unusual candidate for speaker. He is less experienced than nearly every speaker in modern history, currently serving his fourth term and having never chaired a House standing committee. He served in leadership as the Republican conference’s vice-chair, ranking below McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York. Scalise and Emmer both made runs for speaker but failed.

Johnson was also previously chair of the Republican Study Committee, the biggest ideological faction of Republicans. The group generally advocates spending cuts and socially conservative positions, including limited access to abortion.

Johnson’s victory benefited from his relatively muted stature within Congress. Other candidates for the job, including Scalise, Emmer and House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan, all had baggage from past conflicts with their peers. Most Republicans assert that McCarthy was ousted for personality reasons, particularly his nuclear animous with Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“Mike doesn’t have a self-promoting bone in his body, but that brother has a fire shut up in those bones to fight for this country,” Arrington said in a statement. Arrington and Johnson joined Congress in the same class.

U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Sherman, was one of Johnson’s earliest backers and called him an effective, policy-focused lawmaker.

“Mike's got the policy depth like no other,” Fallon said. “He's very good on television and at messaging. It's just part of the job now; it's not 1960. And he's 16 miles from Texas, which doesn't hurt either.”

But Democrats were repulsed, characterizing him as a slightly more polished Jordan.

“House Republicans have put their name behind someone who has been called the most important architect of the Electoral College objections,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California said on the House floor while nominating Jeffries. “Democrats believe when members of this body voted to reject the results of the 2020 election, they forfeited their ability to lead this chamber.”

Johnson, a constitutional lawyer by trade, was close to former President Donald Trump and was actively involved in his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He emailed every single House Republican to sign their support for a Texas lawsuit challenging the election results, CNN reported at the time. He managed to get 125 of his peers to join. The lawsuit went nowhere in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Johnson also voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

When an ABC News reporter on Tuesday night asked Johnson during a news conference about his role in challenging the election, Johnson smiled while his fellow Republicans booed the reporter. Johnson never responded aside from calling for another question.

Emmer was the only speaker nominee who voted to certify the election. Though it elicited some favor among Democrats, the vote ultimately became a liability in securing Republican support. Trump blasted him on social media, effectively killing his chances.

But with Johnson, Republicans dismissed the 2020 election as not worth rehashing. Williams said Democrats are "living in the past. We're living in the future."

"What's relevant about something that happened three or four years ago?" Williams said. "Let me tell you, in business and in life, you have to continue to look forward, and we've got to look forward to 2024."

Williams signed onto Johnson's amicus brief supporting the Texas lawsuit.

Rep. Chip Roy, a deeply conservative Austin Republican who voted to certify the 2020 election, dismissed Johnson's actions over the election as a "reasonable disagreement." Roy was vocal in opposing the effort to challenge the election results but said "we move forward and move on."

Johnson is deeply religious, dedicating much of his early political career on advocating socially conservative causes. He opposes abortion access and voted against a law that protects same-sex and interracial marriage across state lines.

He serves on the House Judiciary Committee, a panel where members of both parties often hash out some of the most polarizing topics of the day. Jordan chairs the panel.

Johnson used his perch on the committee to blast Democratic border and immigration priorities. He called for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and said during a Newsmax interview that “I think that ultimately they hope to turn all these illegals into voters for their side.”

Rep Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, said she was dismayed at Johnson's legislative record, calling it "beyond harmful" to the people in his district.

"I hope that he is sincere in his statements as it relates to wanting to work for the good of the people. His voting record says something different," said Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas.

Grace Yarrow contributed reporting.