Analysis: Congratulations — or should it be condolences, Mr. Speaker?

On his first full day on the job, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., makes a statement to reporters about the mass shooting in Maine, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. He did not respond to questions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
For all the latest developments in Congress, follow WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller at Today on the Hill.

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has gone from being a relatively unknown congressman from Shreveport, Louisiana, to the person who’s now second in line to the presidency.

Since the past three GOP House Speakers have either quit or been forced out, some argue the speakership is the worst job in politics.

Republicans shut down the House of Representatives for more than three weeks, amid infighting over who should become their new leader, choosing several more well-known GOP lawmakers as nominees — only to have them drop out or fail to get enough floor votes.

But just when it appeared they couldn’t agree on anyone, Rep. Mike Johnson quickly became their choice to get the gavel.

“I want to thank my dedicated wife of 25 years, Kelly,” he said from the rostrum after getting elected.

“She’s not here. We couldn’t get a flight in time. This happened sort of suddenly,” he said to laughter in the House chamber.

Johnson, 51, is in his fourth term in Congress and, while not well-known, is well-liked within the Republican conference and a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump.

He also has the least leadership experience of any House Speaker in 140 years, since Rep. John Carlisle, a Democrat from Kentucky, rose to the speakership in 1883.

The reasons he was chosen are many, including that he seems to have no GOP enemies, and sheer exhaustion and exasperation within the Republican conference.

Democrats are trying to brand him as an election denier and pointing to his long record of opposing abortion rights.

He has already been to the White House, meeting on Thursday with President Joe Biden, who is asking Congress to include a $105 billion supplemental national security package that includes funding for Israel and Ukraine.

That will be one of the biggest issues Johnson faces right away. While there is strong support for providing Israel with $14.5 billion as it wages war with Hamas, additional funding for Ukraine is another story.

Many House Republicans strongly oppose approving more funding for Ukraine and don’t want it bundled into legislation along with aid for Israel.

In an interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Johnson indicated he wants to take up the funding for Israel separately.

“Here’s the important thing that distinguishes House Republicans from the other team,” he said. “We’re going to find ‘pay-fors’ in the budget. We’re not just printing money to send money overseas. We’re going to find the cuts elsewhere to do that.”

That will be very difficult to do, especially since Democrats are already bitter over former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s earlier efforts to appease conservatives by abandoning an agreement with the White House on the debt ceiling, to seek deeper spending cuts.

“The time for Republican brinkmanship is over,” said the House’s top Democrat, Hakeem Jeffries. “Enough of the chaos. Enough of the dysfunction.”

Johnson, among his many challenges, will need to navigate the same issues that McCarthy faced.

McCarthy was ousted by members of own party for working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown that would have gone into effect on Oct. 1

In the weeks ahead, Johnson will have to determine how he can avoid a government shutdown before the next deadline, Nov. 17.

Hard-liners have indicated they will give him a little bit of slack, even though they are highly critical of another short-term spending measure to keep the government open.

But Republicans also know that they paralyzed the House for most of October, leaving little time for anything else but a continuing resolution ahead of the upcoming deadline.

It will be interesting to see how long Johnson can control his unwieldy conference and whether he can avoid the fate of the three previous GOP House Speakers.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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