The longest House leadership conflict in modern times has finally concluded, but not without leaving scars on both sides. Congressman Mike Johnson assumed the role of the 56th Speaker of the House of Representatives amid cheers and standing ovations from his Republican colleagues. This outcome was unexpected, as tensions within the party had divided them for three weeks.
What made Johnson stand out was not just who he was but, perhaps more importantly, who he wasn’t. Unlike the previous three Speaker-designees, he did not belong to the existing Republican House leadership, which had faced resistance from hardline conservatives. He was also not an ideological firebrand like Jim Jordan, who had the support of Donald Trump and the party’s populist wing but faced resistance from centrists and institutionalists.
Johnson, a former chair of the House’s conservative Republican Study Committee, had the trust of the party’s right-wing without the baggage that created enemies elsewhere. While he had taken controversial stances on issues such as a nationwide abortion ban, supporting Trump’s election result challenges, and opposing gay marriage, he had done so quietly and, for the most part, away from television cameras.
His lack of ambition, evident by entering the Speaker race relatively late, made him a suitable choice for Republicans eager to move past weeks of political turmoil without specific concessions or commitments.
Congressman Ken Buck, who had previously objected to others for not acknowledging Joe Biden’s presidential victory, voted for Johnson without objection. Even those who may not agree with him on every issue praised his honesty and truthfulness.
However, Johnson faces significant challenges ahead. The Biden administration and Senate allies are advocating for a multi-billion dollar military aid bill for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Additionally, a temporary funding measure is set to expire on November 17, which could lead to a government shutdown unless Congress acts.
In a letter to his Republican colleagues, Johnson acknowledged the potential need for another temporary funding bill to buy more time for annual appropriations. He also stressed the importance of negotiating “from a position of strength” with Democrats in the Senate and the Biden White House.
During these negotiations, Johnson’s leadership will be put to the test. His predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, lost support when he was perceived to have conceded too much to Democrats on issues like raising the national debt cap and avoiding a government shutdown without obtaining significant concessions.
Johnson may have more flexibility with his party’s right-wing due to his established ties to them, but he will inevitably face strategic and ideological divisions within the party. He will need to determine when to compromise with the Democrats, who share control in Washington, and whether he can sell any agreement to the rest of his party.
Furthermore, there’s the question of whether Republicans will consider changing the rules that allowed a small group of them to join with Democrats to derail McCarthy’s leadership. Restoring the norms of House Republicans supporting the party in procedural votes and rallying behind the leadership chosen by a majority of their ranks will be another challenge.
Mike Johnson’s tenure as Speaker will be marked by the need to navigate complex legislative issues, negotiate with Democrats, and reconcile ideological divisions within the Republican Party. The success of his speakership will depend on his ability to unite his party and effectively lead in a highly polarized political environment.