After 22 days of paralysis, four nominees and multiple backroom brawls, Congress finally has a new House Speaker, electing a Donald Trump ally who backed the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Three weeks after Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the job, Republicans put aside their differences for long enough to appoint Louisiana lawyer Mike Johnson as his replacement.
The move ends an unprecedented period in Washington, in which Congress was unable to pass legislation, approve more funding for Israel or Ukraine, or give Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with a platform to do a joint address as part of his state visit this week.
Asked during a press conference with Joe Biden if he was concerned about the passage of AUKUS legislation in Congress, and whether the dysfunction made the US an unreliable partner, Albanese replied: “I regard the United States as a very reliable partner, and I regard the relationship that I have with the president as second to none of the relationships that I have around the world - or indeed domestically for that matter.”
“I’m very confident in the discussions that I’ve had with Democrats and Republicans that there is very broad support for the AUKUS arrangements and that there will be support for the legislation going forward,” he said.
Johnson’s appointment came after Republican infighting resulted in three other nominees being blocked from becoming Speaker.
In the weeks since McCarthy was ousted by a small group of rebels in his ranks, Majority House leader Steve Scalise, House Judiciary chairman Jim Jordan and Minnesota moderate Tom Emmett were all nominated to replace him, but each withdrew after they couldn’t find the 217 votes needed to become Speaker through a full vote on the floor of the House.
Johnson, 51, is a relatively low profile Republican who benefited from having fewer party enemies than the other nominees. He also received the backing of Trump, who told reporters in New York on Wednesday: “I think he’s gonna be a fantastic Speaker… Everybody likes him.”
However, Democrats have hit out at the Louisiana Republican’s history, which includes opposing legislation to mandate recognition for marriage equality, being fiercely against access to abortion, and playing a key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election results.
Namely, he was the organiser of an amicus brief, or series of documents, backing a Texas-led lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to intervene in the vote counting in certain states Biden won.
“As it turned out, the one indispensable quality you had to have to become speaker was to be an election denier,” former Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote on social media.
In sign of more turmoil to come, the deeply divided House of Representatives now has only a few weeks to negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown that could force millions of Americans to lose pay or access to services when departments run out of money.
The infighting in the Republican party took a particularly nasty turn last week, when some of Jordan’s anonymous supporters began issuing death threats and vile messages to politicians who refused to support him.
“You’re gonna keep getting calls and emails - I’m putting all your information on the internet now,” said an anonymous caller to the wife of one Republican, in audio leaked to CNN. “You will not be left alone because of your f------ f----- husband. You’re going to be molested like you can’t ever imagine.”
For now, however, most Republicans have united behind Johnson, who secured 220 votes to win the gavel.
“While there are issues where we differ, we must get back to governing for the good of the country,” New York moderate Mike Lawler wrote on social media, posting a photo of himself and the new Speaker shaking hands.
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