Trump Ally Mike Johnson Elected House Speaker, Shifting GOP Further Right

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(Bloomberg) -- 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 paralyzed legislative work.

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His election Wednesday culminates 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 elevation of the 51-year-old Louisiana congressman — who was a prominent supporter of Donald Trump’s efforts to deny Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory — is a triumph for cultural and economic conservatives as the party navigates tensions between an emerging populist wing aligned with 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.

Johnson repeatedly invoked his religious faith in a speech on the House floor that nodded to the realities of lawmaking while committing to a conservative agenda.

“We have to sacrifice sometimes our preferences — because that’s what’s necessary in a legislative body — but we will defend our core principles to the end,” Johnson said.

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

Biden offered Johnson congratulations on his election and urged Republicans “to move swiftly to address our national security needs and to avoid a shutdown in 22 days.”

Johnson 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.

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

In a letter this week to GOP lawmakers, however, he backed a temporary spending plan to keep the government open into next year, past a Nov. 17 deadline, in order to allow time for negotiations.

Read More: GOP Speaker Nominee Johnson Has Plan to Avoid November Shutdown

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

Johnson objected to certification of the 2020 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 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 antagonized adversaries within the party. But 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 before his entry into 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 legalizing 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 teen-age 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,” offered Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.

--With assistance from Maeve Sheehey, Jonathan Tamari and Gregory Korte.

(Updates with Johnson, Biden comments beginning with fifth paragraph.)

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