Mike Johnson, a relatively lesser-known Republican from Louisiana, has taken the gavel as the new speaker of the US House of Representatives, ending three weeks of political chaos.
“The people’s House is back in business,” Johnson declared after taking the gavel.
Johnson, 51, is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who backed him for the post. The new speaker has his work cut out amid infighting in his Republican party. Here is what to know about Johnson and his recent election.
Why the speaker race was marred by chaos?
The speaker chair of the House became vacant after Kevin McCarthy was removed on October 3 by the hard-right section of the Republican Party after McCarthy approved a bipartisan temporary funding bill to avoid government shutdown.
The stakes were high for US lawmakers, who were unable to function in the wake of urgent issues such as the looming threat of the US government shut down as well as the Israel-Palestine conflict and the war in Ukraine.
A cohort of Republican contenders for the new House speaker role struggled with party infighting. Hours before Johnson’s nomination, Republican whip Tom Emmer dropped his bid after Trump urged Republicans to oppose him. Besides Emmer, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise withdrew while Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan was pushed out from the race after failed attempts at securing the votes.
Despite private balloting, Johnson won 220 votes against Democrat Hakeem Jefferies, who won 209. Democrats said they are open to a compromise candidate who would allow the chamber to function. Republicans hold the majority in the House with 221 members as opposed to 212 Democrats.
Who is Mike Johnson?
Johnson was elected to the Louisiana statehouse in 2015 and ran for Congress successfully in 2016. He now represents Louisiana’s fourth congressional district. The 51-year leader is the first Louisianan to become speaker and the first southerner to serve as speaker since Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia in the 1990s.
He describes himself as a “Christian, a husband, a father, a life-long conservative, constitutional law attorney and a small business owner”. He has opposed abortion rights and same sex marriage. Addressing the House after his election, Johnson promised to quickly move forward on conservative priorities, such as support for Israel and border security.
“The time for action is now,” Johnson said. “I will not let you down.”
Prior to being a Congressman, he was a lawyer specialising in constitutional issues and religious freedom. He successfully defended Louisiana’s same sex marriage ban in 2004. Johnson has drawn on his religious beliefs throughout his work. He is also the former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
But it remains to be seen how well Johnson will fare at uniting his fractured party as the House immediately plunges into debates over government spending – or in gaining trust from Democrats who are deeply suspicious of his socially conservative record and support for Trump. The House will have to pass a spending bill by mid-November when the current stopgap measures expire.
Is he a Trump ally?
Johnson defended and played a role in Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results following Joe Biden’s victory.
He has earned the nickname “MAGA Mike” among his hard-right colleagues, a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”, which continues to be associated with Trumpian ideals. Trump also backed Johnson in the race saying: “I think he’s gonna be a fantastic speaker”.
Where does he stand on issues?
Israel-Palestine conflict: Johnson supports Israel and his first act as speaker was calling up a resolution reaffirming US commitment to Israel.
Ukraine: He is against sending Ukraine aid to defend itself against Russia, receiving an “F” from advocacy group Republicans for Ukraine.
Abortion: The new speaker has defended anti-abortion rights laws in Louisiana and has worked (PDF) to shut down abortion clinics.
Immigration: He is in favour of tightening the asylum system and has introduced three bills in the past aimed to do so.
LGBTQ rights: Johnson opposes same-sex marriage and introduced a bill in 2022 that would have banned schools from promoting or discussing gender identity.
Education: Johnson has advanced the policy of school prayer. He opposes teachers’ unions.