WASHINGTON — In a significant political development, Louisiana's very own Republican, Mike Johnson, has assumed the role of Speaker of the House. However, this leadership transition brings challenges that have been a recurring theme for GOP leaders of the past. These challenges have tested their ability to lead and sometimes led to their premature exits from office.
Following the tumultuous removal of Kevin McCarthy, the House's Thursday session promises to be bustling with activity as lawmakers endeavor to recover the time lost during recent weeks of chaos. Nevertheless, beneath Johnson's initial support, underlying political divisions threaten his leadership as he guides the GOP majority through a series of complex and pressing issues.
One such challenge is the looming November 17 deadline, by which Congress must secure funding for the government to prevent a federal shutdown. In addition, President Joe Biden is seeking an extra $105 billion for military and humanitarian aid, specifically for Israel and Ukraine. These matters add to the intricate web of issues at hand. Furthermore, Republicans are eager to reignite an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, centered on his son's business dealings.
Speaker Johnson, who took office on Wednesday, acknowledges the demanding road ahead, stating, "The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down."
Although a lower-ranked member of the House GOP leadership team, Mike Johnson emerged as the fourth Republican nominee amid a chaotic cycle of political infighting that unfolded after McCarthy's ouster. While he might not have been the initial choice for the role, Johnson's deeply rooted religious beliefs and composed demeanor have earned him respect within the party. He also boasts the crucial support of former President Donald Trump.
In a New York courthouse, where Trump is facing a lawsuit on business fraud and is now the leading Republican contender for the 2024 presidential race, he endorsed Johnson, affirming, "He's a tremendous leader who will make us all proud."
President Biden promptly congratulated the new Speaker, underlining the need for responsible action in government funding and aid provision to Ukraine and Israel. Urgency looms large.
The House witnessed a struggle between far-right members who resisted a traditional speaker and moderate conservatives who favored a less hardline approach. Johnson's amiable demeanor, underpinned by his evangelical faith and conservative principles, has been pivotal in uniting lawmakers. Trump's endorsement resulted from the failure of more seasoned leaders to secure the position.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led a group of eight hardliners in McCarthy's ouster, expressed confidence in Johnson's leadership, declaring, "You watch and see how much this House of Representatives can get done under Mike Johnson."
However, Democrats have been swift to criticize Johnson, labeling him an extreme conservative with a staunch stance against abortion access. Moreover, he was actively involved in Trump's legal efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won. Rep. Suzan DelBene, chair of the Democrats' campaign committee, commented that Republicans have chosen a "MAGA acolyte" to push a radical agenda, potentially at the expense of middle-class families.
As the Republican lawmakers deal with anxiety and exhaustion, their determination to move forward is evident. They quickly reconvened to pass a resolution expressing solidarity with Israel and condemning Hamas' actions. Their next focus was on a stalled government funding bill. In a departure from the original plan, Republicans rearranged the House calendar to ensure progress ahead of the November 17 deadline.
Speaker Johnson outlined his priorities in a letter to colleagues. This includes the necessity for a stopgap government funding bill into the following year to avert a potential November shutdown. This move bears similarities to the circumstances that led to McCarthy's removal. While Johnson stressed the importance of aiding Israel in its struggle against Hamas, he displayed less enthusiasm for providing additional funds to Ukraine as it grapples with Russia during the harsh winter months.
One of Johnson's most formidable challenges will be balancing the far-right's demands with the pragmatic needs of government functionality. This balancing act becomes even more complex considering the existing divisions within the Republican party, particularly concerning budgetary matters. It is worth noting that the rules now allow any lawmaker to force a vote to remove the speaker from office, a significant threat in McCarthy's departure.
Johnson's rise to Speaker comes after a tumultuous month, culminating in a rapid change of nominee for the position. Overnight, endorsements for Johnson poured in, including support from those who initially aspired to the role. Notably, Rep. Jim Jordan and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, initially rejected by Jordan's wing, now stand behind Johnson after securing the nomination.
Mike Johnson, a lawyer specializing in constitutional issues, had previously rallied Republicans around Trump's legal efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. As he assumes the role of Speaker, his mission is clear: to serve the American people well and restore their faith in the House.