WASHINGTON (AFP) – Republicans on Tuesday made their fourth pick in just two weeks to replace the ousted speaker of the US House of Representatives, underlining the chaos engulfing the fragmented party after three previous nominees failed to win the gavel.
Louisiana’s Mike Johnson won an internal party vote just hours after the previous nominee, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, buckled under a backlash led by former president Donald Trump and announced his withdrawal.
Congress has been at a standstill and unable to address multiple global crises, as well as the fast-approaching threat of a government shutdown, since Kevin McCarthy’s historic dismissal in a far-right rebellion on October 3.
“The dysfunction in the Republican Party right now seems to be saying we want to lose,” exasperated Kentucky Republican Andy Barr told CNN.
“That is crazy to me. We were elected as a majority to govern, and we are not doing that right now.”
Johnson — the vice chairman of the conference but a relative novice in politics — lost out to Emmer earlier in the day but quickly threw his hat back in the ring after his leadership colleague bowed out.
But all the indications are that Johnson will likely fall foul of the same internal divisions that have left the party incapable of uniting around any leader.
Tuesday’s disarray marked two weeks since the party’s first nominee to replace McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, withdrew as it became clear he was nowhere near the 217 votes needed to be elected.
Hard-line Trump ally Jim Jordan, the next nominee, flopped three times on the House floor as successively larger tallies of Republican opponents joined the Democrats to reject him.
If Johnson were to succeed where his colleagues have failed, he would be the least experienced speaker in more than a century, having never chaired a committee or held a top leadership role.
And he could find himself presiding over a government shutdown in three weeks unless he can cut a 2024 budget deal with much more seasoned negotiators in the White House that is acceptable to his party.
He would also be expected to lead the deeply fractured conference through upcoming fights over funding for Ukraine and Israel in their conflicts with Russia and Hamas.
Johnson moved up to the House from state-level politics in 2017.
He is best known as a driving force among more than 100 Republicans who signed on to a legal brief supporting a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election results in four swing states won by Biden.
He can afford to lose just four Republicans and still claim the speakership if every Democrat votes against him, although the House adjourned until Wednesday with no election scheduled.
Only 128 of Johnson’s colleagues voted for him in the final round of balloting, according to US media — with 29 preferring his rival, Florida lawmaker Byron Donalds, and another 44 casting their votes for someone else entirely.
Like Johnson, Emmer had baselessly sown doubt over the validity of Biden’s 2020 election win over Trump, but supporters of the former president were angered by the majority whip voting to certify the result.
The writing was on the wall when Trump took to his Truth social website to brand Emmer a “globalist RINO” — short for “Republican in name only.”
Trump took credit for Emmer’s downfall as he spoke to reporters at his New York civil fraud trial.
“I assume it had a big impact,” he said of his statement.