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Republicans pick Mike Johnson as U.S. House speaker, ending 3-week gridlock

Click to play video: 'Republicans elect Mike Johnson as U.S. House speaker, ending 3-week gridlock'
Republicans elect Mike Johnson as U.S. House speaker, ending 3-week gridlock
WATCH: Republicans united behind Rep. Mike Johnson in a full vote of the House on Wednesday, ending one of the most chaotic periods of political gridlock and infighting in modern U.S. history – Oct 25, 2023

It took four candidates and just over three weeks, but the U.S. House of Representatives finally has a speaker.

Republicans united behind Rep. Mike Johnson in a full vote of the House on Wednesday, bringing to an end one of the most chaotic periods of political gridlock and infighting in modern U.S. history.

Johnson was selected by Republicans as their nominee for speaker behind closed doors late Tuesday night, just hours after far-right members blocked another nominee, GOP whip Rep. Tom Emmer.

The party spent weeks struggling to find a replacement for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted as speaker on Oct. 3 by a faction of Republican lawmakers who voted for his removal alongside Democrats.

Since then, various factions of the Republican Party had been jockeying for control of the process, blocking nominees they didn’t like and demanding concessions from other nominees. Hardline conservatives scuttled the party’s first consensus pick, Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, while moderates ensured those hardliners’ choice, Rep. Jim Jordan, failed in three full votes in the House last week.

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It took Johnson, a lower-profile member from Louisiana, to finally achieve consensus. No Republicans voted against Johnson on the floor Wednesday, while every Democrat — as they had done throughout all previous votes — unanimously voted for their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

“The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down,” Johnson told the House as he claimed the gavel.

To the American people watching he said, “Our mission here is to serve you well and to restore the people’s faith in this House.”

Click to play video: 'US Republicans drop Jim Jordan as nominee as House Speaker drama continues'
US Republicans drop Jim Jordan as nominee as House Speaker drama continues

The election of a speaker will now allow the House to get back to work on legislation, which requires someone in the roll to bring bills to the floor for votes. They have around three weeks to pass spending bills for the fiscal year in order to prevent a government shutdown, and need to consider approving billions of dollars requested by the White House for aid to Israel and Ukraine amid ongoing military conflicts in both countries.

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In a sign Johnson was prepared to act quickly, the House set up a vote for Wednesday afternoon on a resolution to affirm the chamber’s support for Israel in the wake of the deadly attack by Hamas earlier this month.

U.S. President Joe Biden — whose election Johnson led efforts to overturn — congratulated the new speaker and pledged to work with him “in good faith on behalf of the American people.”

“Even though we have real disagreements about important issues, there should be mutual effort to find common ground wherever we can,” he said in a statement released by the White House.

Johnson’s election was not guaranteed the night before. While he had no opponents during the private roll call, some two dozen Republicans did not vote, which would have been more than enough to sink his nomination in a floor vote.

Republicans could only afford to lose four votes due to their narrow majority in the House.

As the infighting sparked by McCarthy’s ouster dragged on for days and then weeks, Republicans grew increasingly exasperated in public, telling reporters the situation was “embarrassing” and could doom their chances of maintaining their majority in next year’s elections.

By the time Johnson emerged as the nominee Tuesday night, Republicans appeared to fall in line at last. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the small band of hardliners to engineer McCarthy’s ouster at the start of the month, posted on social media that “Mike Johnson won’t be the Speaker the Swamp wants but, he is the Speaker America needs.”

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“Democracy is messy sometimes, but it is our system,” Johnson acknowledged after winning the nomination.

Click to play video: 'Scalise drops U.S. House speaker bid as Republicans struggle to unite'
Scalise drops U.S. House speaker bid as Republicans struggle to unite

Who is Mike Johnson?

Johnson is a conservative who is perhaps best known for his defense of former president Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

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As a former constitutional lawyer, he signed an amicus brief in a case that attempted to throw out Pennsylvania’s election results, and called for Trump to “keep fighting.” He was among the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s victory after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Johnson declined to answer a question about that effort shortly after his nomination on Tuesday night, while other Republicans booed and heckled the reporter who asked it.

Asked on Wednesday if he was concerned about Johnson again attempting to overturn an election in 20204 if Biden wins reelection, Biden told reporters at the White House: “No.”

A staunch social conservative, Johnson opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights, calling the decision to overturn federal protections for abortions a “great, joyous occasion.”

He also opposes sending additional aid to Ukraine, potentially setting up a fight with Biden and the White House, who have requested over US$100 billion in additional national and international security spending that includes US$60 billion for Ukraine.

Click to play video: 'Biden to send Congress $100B urgent funding request for Ukraine, Israel and Tawain'
Biden to send Congress $100B urgent funding request for Ukraine, Israel and Tawain

Johnson served as chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee and was elected vice-chair of the conference, but otherwise has no leadership experience – a potential hindrance as he enters into negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House.

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He also has shown limited fundraising ability so far, typically a key part of the speaker’s role.

During the turmoil, the House was led by a speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry, whose main job was to elect a more permanent speaker but otherwise did not have the powers traditionally granted a speaker.

Some Republicans, as well as Democrats, wanted to give McHenry more power to get on with the routine business of governing. But McHenry, the first person to be in the position that was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as an emergency measure, declined to back those overtures.

—With files from Reuters and the Associated Press

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