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Republicans nominate Mike Johnson for House speaker in latest attempt to break GOP impasse

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U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) leaves a House Republican conference meeting in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Oct. 24, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Rep. Mike Johnson, a relatively little-known Louisiana Republican and low-ranking member of the GOP leadership team, became the party’s latest nominee for House speaker on Tuesday night after three other hopefuls fizzled out.

His nomination came just hours after Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., beat Johnson and six other candidates to seize the nomination, only to see Emmer quickly dropped his bid after failing to secure the near-unanimous GOP support needed on the House floor.

Johnson, the GOP Conference vice chair, could suffer a similar fate as Emmer. It remains unclear if he can garner the 217 Republican votes — a simple majority of the full House — needed to win the coveted gavel.

A floor vote could happen as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

Elected to Congress in 2016, Johnson is popular and well liked among his Republican colleagues, and has carefully avoided making many political enemies on Capitol Hill.

Johnson, 51, has a broad base of support, following a path similar to two of his political mentors: Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a fellow Louisianan, and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom also won nominations for speaker but dropped out. All three began as state lawmakers before winning seats in Congress, and served as head of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of conservatives in Congress, before moving up to leadership posts.

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Johnson is seeking to achieve something that the last three nominees failed to do: win at least 217 of the 221 Republican votes needed to become speaker. It will be Johnson’s decision whether and when to hold such a vote. Jordan held multiple votes and failed, while Scalise and Emmer bowed out before holding any floor votes, recognizing that they didn’t have a path to victory.

Nationally, Johnson has largely flown under the radar, avoiding the inflammatory rhetoric or theatrical moments that many lawmakers use to gain attention. But behind the scenes, he can be influential.

On Tuesday, as Johnson was in the running to be speaker, the political team of former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., circulated a New York Times article that called the Louisiana Republican “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” on Jan. 6, 2021, aimed at keeping then-President Donald Trump in power even though he lost.

The Times reported last year that many Republicans who voted to discount pro-Biden electors cited an argument crafted by Johnson, which was to steer clear of the lies about mass fraud and instead hang the objection on the claim that certain states’ voting changes in the pandemic were unconstitutional.

Another wild card in the speaker’s race is Trump, who knifed Emmer on Tuesday after he won the nomination. Emmer voted to certify the 2020 election, drawing the ire of Trump allies.

Johnson picked up some momentum before he got out of the gate. Before voting even began, one rival, Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., dropped out of the race and threw his support behind the Louisianan.

And to win Tuesday night, Johnson beat out the four remaining GOP candidates. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., was eliminated in the first round after coming in last.

Small Business Chairman Roger Williams, R-Texas, was nixed in the second round after earning the lowest vote total, and Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., dropped out and endorsed Johnson, a GOP source said.

In the third and final round, Johnson defeated Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a Freedom Caucus member and one of four Black Republicans in the House.

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