WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Mike Johnson is the new speaker of the House, but the ally inherits many of the same political problems that have tormented past GOP leaders, tested their grasp of the gavel and eventually chased them from office.
The House convened Thursday with a bustle of activity, making up for lost time during the weeks of chaos since Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker. But the initial goodwill toward Johnson blurs the political fault lines challenging the Louisianan’s ability to lead the GOP majority as it faces daunting issues ahead.
In an early test, the mass shootings in Maine, Johnson said prayer was a proper response from the House. “This is a dark time in America,” Johnson said at the Capitol on his first full day as speaker.
“We’re really, really hopeful and prayerful,” he said. “Prayer is appropriate at a time like this, that the evil can end and the senseless violence can stop.”
Johnson, a staunchly conservative evangelical Christian, declined to take any questions, including about the possibility of any gun violence legislation from Congress.
There are more challenges coming.
By Nov. 17, the Congress must fund the government again or risk a federal shutdown. President wants an additional $105 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Israel and Ukraine. And Republicans are eager to resume their impeachment inquiry into Biden over his son Hunter’s business dealings.
“This has been a grueling process,” Johnson said Wednesday after his ascension. “The challenge before us is great but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down.”
Johnson, 51, swept through on the first ballot with support from all Republicans anxious to put weeks of tumult behind and get on with the business of governing. He was quickly sworn as speaker and is now second in line to the presidency, after the vice president.
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 McCarthy’s removal as party factions jockeyed for power.
While not the Republicans’ top choice, Johnson had few foes and an important backer in Donald Trump.
“He’s a tremendous leader,” Trump said Wednesday at the New York courthouse where the former president, he Republican front-runner for president in 2024, is on trial over a lawsuit alleging business fraud.
Biden called to congratulate the new speaker and said it’s “time for all of us to act responsibly” to fund the government and provide aid for Ukraine and Israel.
“We need to move swiftly,” the president said in a statement.
On Thursday, Johnson sat down with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who told reporters afterward that he had a “very good” meeting with the new speaker.
Johnson, who has been in office less than a decade, drew together fellow Republicans through his faith, conservative roots and Trump’s nod after more seasoned leaders had failed. Far-right members in the House had refused to accept a more traditional speaker, and moderate conservatives did not want a hard-liner.
“You watch and see how much this House of Representatives can actually get done under Mike Johnson,” said Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who the eight hard-liners who ousted McCarthy.
Democrats said Johnson, a lawyer specializing in constitutional issues, was an extreme conservative, a strict opponent of abortion access and an architect of Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election he lost to Democrat Biden.
“Republicans have chosen a MAGA acolyte to push an extreme agenda in the House at the expense of middle-class families,” said Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the Democrats’ campaign committee, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
After Johnson’s election, lawmakers quickly reconvened and approved a resolution Wednesday saying the House “stands with Israel” and “condemns Hamas’ brutal war.” They next turned to a stalled government funding bill.
Rather than take a scheduled work period at home, Republicans rearranged the House calendar to return to Washington next week and keep pushing through the various government funding bills before the Nov. 17 deadline.
In a letter to colleagues, Johnson outlined priorities that include providing a short-term funding bill, into next year, to prevent a November shutdown — almost the same move that led to McCarthy’s ouster.
Most Republicans voted against the budget deal McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year, demanding steeper spending cuts. Johnson will need to navigate the far-right demands with the realities of keeping the government functioning.
Similar Republican infighting chased three other GOP speakers — John Boehner of Ohio, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Newt Gingrich of Georgia — to early departures. The difference now is that Republican rules allow any single lawmaker to force a vote to remove the speaker from office, the threat that ultimately toppled McCarthy.
Johnson’s rise comes after a tumultuous month, capped by a head-spinning Tuesday, when one candidate for speaker, Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, was nominated and then quickly withdraw after Trump bashed the nomination.
Soon, endorsements for Johnson started pouring in, including from the failed speaker hopefuls. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the hard-charging House Judiciary Committee chairman backed by Trump, gave his support. Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who had been rejected by Jordan’s wing, stood behind Johnson after he won the nomination.
“Our mission here is to serve you well and to restore the people’s faith in this House,” Johnson said to the American people who were watching.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New York and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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