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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mike Johnson elected speaker of the House after being nominated by McMorris Rodgers

New Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., is sworn in Wednesday after Republicans closed ranks and unanimously voted for him.  (New York Times)

WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Wednesday elected Mike Johnson of Louisiana as House speaker, ending a three-week impasse that had stricken the chamber as warring GOP factions repeatedly failed to unite behind a leader.

Johnson, an ally of former President Donald Trump and a constitutional lawyer who served as a chief architect of the legal strategy to overturn the 2020 election results, pledged to work with Democrats to send aid to Israel, improve border security and create a bipartisan commission aimed at reducing the nation’s budget deficit. It is less clear what his ascension means for additional aid to Ukraine, which he has opposed, or for averting a government shutdown that looms in mid-November.

On Tuesday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane officially nominated Johnson in a speech she delivered in a closed-door GOP meeting where he was one of seven candidates put forward to lead the party.

“Trust has been broken in the House, and we have come to a standstill,” McMorris Rodgers said, according to an excerpt provided by her office. Pointing to the words “in God we trust” that are engraved above the House rostrum where the speaker stands, she told her fellow Republicans, “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. People we serve are counting on it.

“May today be the day that we vote unanimously for a speaker who will lead us to rebuild trust,” the Spokane Republican added, “first in God and each other, and ultimately with the people of this greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known, the United States of America.”

That day, the vote was far from unanimous, as a majority of House Republicans first chose Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota as their nominee, before Trump torpedoed that candidacy by accusing Emmer of being insufficiently loyal to the former president.

Unlike Emmer, Johnson voted to reject the results of the 2020 election when the House reconvened on Jan. 6, 2021, even after a riot at the Capitol by Trump supporters caused McMorris Rodgers to reverse course and certify the results.

When Emmer stepped down Tuesday afternoon – just four hours after being picked as the party’s third speaker nominee since Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California was ousted by GOP hardliners on Oct. 3 – Johnson emerged as the next-best option to unite the House’s 221 Republicans. The next day, McMorris Rodgers’ colleagues heeded her call and voted unanimously to make him speaker.

Johnson, a fourth-term lawmaker who had served as vice-chair of the House Republican Conference, cuts an unassuming figure. In her nominating speech, McMorris Rodgers recalled the Old Testament story of David, who slew the giant Goliath after he, too, was underestimated.

“In the story of King David, we are reminded that man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” she said. “Mike Johnson has the heart and the mind to bring hope and healing, to secure our border, keep our families safe, and build a brighter future by tackling our sky-high debt and broken budget process.”

Not unlike David, who ascended to the throne after the previous king of Israel and his heir apparent fell in battle, Johnson only became speaker after McCarthy and his first proposed successor were done in by hard-right lawmakers who opposed any collaboration with Democrats.

The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was deemed too moderate by far-right members of the conference. The next candidate, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, was considered too radical by GOP moderates. After giving Emmer brief consideration, the party decided Johnson was just right.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, opposed Jordan but called Johnson “a principled conservative who will put our country’s best interests first,” saying in a statement he had spoken with Johnson on Wednesday morning and was confident the new speaker would bring appropriations bills to the floor to fund the government.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, Washington, who leads the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of lawmakers representing rural areas of which Johnson is a member, said in a statement he looked forward “to working with Speaker Johnson to ensure the voice of Rural America remains strong in the halls of Congress.”

Some moderate Democrats applauded during parts of Johnson’s first address as speaker, when he pledged to work across the aisle on shared priorities. But the boos and jeers Democrats and Republicans traded during the vote suggested that bipartisan legislating will be an uphill battle.

A statement from the New Democrat Coalition, a moderate bloc that counts several Washington lawmakers among its members, called Johnson “a danger to both our domestic and national security.”

The Biden campaign, eager to capitalize on alarm on the left over Johnson’s opposition to abortion access and same-sex marriage, delivered a message to the House Republicans in vulnerable seats who rallied behind their party’s nominee.

“The American people have rejected the extreme MAGA ideology at the ballot box because they understand what’s at stake,” campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement. “And so to every MAGA Republican who supported this choice: We’ll see you in November.”

Democrats and Republicans alike used the roll-call vote, a tedious exercise House lawmakers went through for the 19th time this year, to express their pent-up emotions after the three-week slog to elect a speaker. Republicans were increasingly jubilant as it became clear they would finally elect a speaker, while Democrats grew more frustrated.

“For the protection of voting rights, Hakeem Jeffries,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Tacoma.

Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., highlighted Johnson’s opposition to same-sex marriage by prefacing her vote for Jeffries with, “Happy wedding anniversary to my wife.”

Before declaring her support for Jeffries, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey introduced the Democratic leader as “the only candidate who represents the integrity of this House.”

When her turn to vote came, McMorris Rodgers stood and cast her vote for “Mike ‘Magic’ Johnson,” an apparent nod to the extraordinary feat it took to unite the GOP conference.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, who represents western Montana, made the most of being the alphabetically last Republican. Pointing with his signature black cowboy hat in hand, Zinke declared, “The next speaker of the people’s House, Mike Johnson!”

In its first legislative act after Johnson was installed as speaker, the House overwhelmingly passed a symbolic resolution expressing support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Every lawmaker from the Northwest voted in favor.