House GOP gives Mike Johnson Speaker nod after whirlwind Emmer dropout

House Republicans nominated Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) for Speaker Tuesday evening, making him the fourth GOP lawmaker to win the conference’s nod — and its second nominee within a day after House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) dropped out of the running amid GOP opposition.

Johnson’s nomination capped off a whirlwind day — but one that ended with House Republicans appearing to finally unite around a Speaker nominee.

In an internal roll call validation vote for Johnson, all but three GOP members who voted “present” said they could vote for Johnson for Speaker on the House floor. While at least a dozen members were absent, putting him under the 217-vote threshold in the room, Johnson signaled optimism that he would win their support, too.

“Democracy is messy sometimes,” Johnson, flanked by smiling GOP colleagues, said after the vote. “This House Republican majority is united.”

The intention, Johnson said, is to go to the House floor on Wednesday.

“This is servant leadership. We’re going to serve the people of this country. We’re going to restore their faith in this Congress, this institution of government. America is the last best hope of man on the earth,” Johnson said.

The scene marked a stunning shift in attitude for House Republicans, who had been stuck in something of a doom loop in the three weeks since eight of their colleagues joined with Democrats to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who spearheaded the move to oust McCarthy, said of Johnson’s nomination: “It was worth it.”

“We adore him, and I think he’s gonna do a great job for the country and for the right reasons. Mike Johnson has not bought and paid for. Mike Johnson does what is right,” Gaetz said.

Johnson, 51, has been the House GOP’s vice chairman, a junior leadership position, since 2021. He is also a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House. 

Before joining Congress in 2017, Johnson was a member of the Louisiana State House and attorney who had stints as a talk show host and a college professor.

Now, he’s the GOP conference’s fourth attempt to move past the three-week stalemate in the House.

The House GOP had first nominated House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), but he withdrew his name from the running just a day after his nomination amid staunch opposition from Jordan supporters. Then conference picked Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), but rescinded the nod after three failed attempts to win the gavel on the House floor and opposition from those who were bitter about Scalise.

Earlier on Tuesday, Johnson came in second to Emmer in a nominating vote that spanned five ballots.

But hours later, third Speaker nominee Emmer dropped out as he faced opposition from more than two dozen House Republicans who asserted he was not conservative enough — and former President Trump, who dubbed Emmer a “Globalist RINO.”

Lawmakers then came back to start the process over in the evening, with Johnson beating out four other candidates for the job.

When asked what changed the temperature in the room after a tumultuous time for the GOP, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) chalked the difference up to “three weeks.”

“I think I everyone has hopefully exhausted the infighting in their systems, and we can move forward and get back to work on behalf of the American people and focus on the issues,” Lawler said. “Personality conflicts served nobody in there.”

But his victory did not come without yet another wrinkle.

Throughout the three rounds of votes on Tuesday night, growing numbers of members voted for a candidate who was not on the ballot: McCarthy.

While Johnson won the nomination with 128 votes to 29 for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), 43 members voted for McCarthy, according to a source in the room.

Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) told reporters ahead of the vote that he and an undisclosed number of GOP lawmakers planned to vote for McCarthy on the first nomination ballot because the California Republican is the conference’s “best shot.”

“I think all the candidates up there are qualified to be Speaker, I just don’t know that anyone can get closer than Kevin McCarthy can,” he told reporters.

But that opposition quickly dissolved when lawmakers moved from a secret ballot to a vocal roll-call vote to see if he could get the required number of 217 to win on the House floor. Johnson can afford to lose just four GOP votes on the House floor, assuming all members are present and voting.

No one voted for someone other than Johnson, and just three lawmakers voted present rather than for the GOP nominee: Reps. French Hill (R-Ark.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), according to sources in the room. More than a dozen members were absent, lawmakers said.

The same move earlier in the day had revealed more than two dozen Republican holdouts on Emmer, forecasting his downfall. Second-pick GOP nomine Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) faced a similar problem before dropping out after three failed floor votes last week.

Other candidates in the mix on Tuesday evening were Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a House Freedom Caucus member who had also ran earlier in the day; Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and a Freedom Caucus member; Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a House Appropriations Subcommittee chairman; and Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas).

When the candidate forum for the fourth Speaker round started on Tuesday evening, a sixth candidate who had filed and run earlier in the day withdrew his name and endorsed Johnson: Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the current chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

“We got to get a Speaker. This has become more about individuals as opposed to our country and to our presence around the world. And Mike Johnson is a great individual, somebody who will be a great leader for our conference,” Hern said.

If he officially wins the gavel on the House floor, Johnson will face many immediate challenges.

Washington faces a Nov. 17 government shutdown deadline and pressures to approve supplemental funding amid wars in Israel and Ukraine.

“The world is on fire. We stand with our ally Israel,” Johnson said after clinching the nomination on Tuesday. “We have a very busy agenda. We have appropriations bills to get through the process. But you will see this group working like a well-oiled machine.”

Rebecca Beitsch contributed. Updated at 11:36 p.m.

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