Mike Johnson may be the next speaker — but then what?

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By journalsofus.com

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In today’s edition … What we’re watching: Committee vote on Jack Lew, Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel … Inside tonight’s state dinner … but first …

Mike Johnson may be the next speaker — but then what?

House Republicans are as close to electing a speaker as they have been since the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) Tuesday night as their fourth speaker-designate in the three weeks since McCarthy’s downfall. Johnson’s victory came only hours after the conference chose House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) as the nominee, only for Emmer to withdraw late Tuesday afternoon after former president Donald Trump came out against him.

Johnson’s margin of victory was not encouraging.

He won only 128 votes, defeating Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who won 29 votes. But 44 Republicans voted for other candidates — including 43 who voted for McCarthy, according to notes taken by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.).

But Johnson did far better in a roll-call vote late Tuesday night in which House Republicans voted by name instead of by secret ballot. Just three lawmakers voted “present” and about 20 were absent, according to two lawmakers. The rest backed Johnson.

Johnson is set to go to the House floor this afternoon and test whether some combination of the Republicans who voted present and the ones who weren’t there will try to deny him from the speakership, as they blocked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) last week.

Republicans are optimistic that they can elect Johnson.

He’s a junior member of the leadership team who hasn’t made any enemies — perhaps his biggest asset. His credentials are conservative. 

Republicans across the ideological spectrum are saying they’ll back him, including Jordan supporters who wouldn’t back Emmer and many of the Republicans who opposed Jordan last week.

  • “Mike is clearly the guy,” Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), who voted against Jordan three times, told reporters Tuesday night.
  • Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), who voted against Jordan on Friday, is backing Johnson, and he said the other moderate New York Republicans — who often vote as a bloc — supported him in the roll call vote except for Rep. Andrew Garbarino, who was absent.
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a moderate who voted against Jordan last week, said he’ll back Johnson.

Like Jordan, Johnson is more conservative than McCarthy — but he has a less antagonistic style.

“He’s not a flamethrower,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said, explaining Johnson’s appeal. “He has never tried to take a cheap hit on another member of the conference.”

Still, Johnson can lose only about four votes on the House floor, give or take one or two depending on absences in both parties, and the last three weeks have provided plenty of reason for skepticism that Johnson — or any Republican — can win 217 votes. 

And while there’s growing optimism that Republicans can elect a speaker today, no one is clear about what comes next — which could be even more difficult than electing a speaker. 

Johnson hasn’t articulated a clear plan on how he’s going to fund the government or what he’ll do about aid to Ukraine.

He has little experience in leadership and has only a small staff. It’s likely to take him weeks just to get staffed up if he’s elected speaker — and government funding is set to run out in a little more than three weeks.

That’s a tough situation for any speaker — but for a brand-new one leading a deeply fractured Republican conference, it will be nearly impossible.

“We’ve reached the ‘any live body’ stage and [Johnson] is it,” said one senior Republican aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. The aide added that Republicans are screwed (though the aide used saltier language). 

Perhaps Johnson’s biggest claim to fame in his four terms in Congress has been his role in working to overturn President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. The New York Times described him as “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.”

Johnson argued the election should be challenged because of how some states altered their election laws during the pandemic. Many election deniers in Congress adopted the claim, including Jordan, a close Trump ally who has refused to say Biden won the election. 

  • Trump called Johnson on Dec. 9, 2020, and requested that he “rally House Republicans to sign on to an amicus brief in an 11th-hour Texas lawsuit seeking unprecedented judicial intervention in disallowing the results from four key swing states that went for Biden: Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania,” Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger reported for The Post at the time. “Johnson eagerly obliged, emailing all House Republicans to solicit signatures for the long-shot Texas case.”
  • “In the email, Johnson wrote that Trump ‘will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review,’ ensuring Republicans knew the president would be apprised of who signed on and who didn’t,” Rachael, Josh and Tom wrote.

Republicans booed when a reporter asked Johnson about those efforts Tuesday night. 

“Shut up!” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) yelled. “Shut up!”

Johnson’s record contrasts with that of Emmer, who voted to certify the 2020 election. (Emmer signed on to the amicus brief in the Texas lawsuit.)

Some Republicans refused to back Emmer on Tuesday in part because of a position he held in 2011 when he worked for an organization working eliminate the electoral college and elect a president by the popular vote. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) aggressively challenged Emmer on this point on Tuesday.

Trump dislikes Emmer for many reasons, including his vote to certify the election.

House Republicans skeptical of Emmer also pressed him about the vote to certify the election on Tuesday before he dropped out. He told the conference that he voted to certify because he thought that Congress’ role was limited by the Constitution, not because he agreed with the election results.

Johnson has flown mostly under the radar since his election in 2016. His fellow Louisiana Republicans have had bigger platforms, including House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a close McCarthy confidant and adviser. 

Johnson is not a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, but he’s no less conservative.

He has led efforts to protect people who discriminate against LGBTQ people and backs strict restrictions on abortion, scoring an A+ on Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s scorecard. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee as well as the select committee investigating what Republicans describe as the “weaponization of the federal government,” which Jordan leads.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who was one of the eight who voted to oust McCarthy in part because she argued the party didn’t have a compassionate argument for women on abortion and that McCarthy failed to keep promises to her on the issue, said she’ll back Johnson. 

“I don’t have to agree on every position with the new speaker-designate,” Mace said. “If a bill comes to the floor, I get to vote for myself and my constituents no matter what.”

Leigh Ann will interview Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at 9 a.m. Eastern on Thursday as part of a Washington Post Live Summit on AI. Influential, innovative leaders shaping the future of AI will also be featured speakers, including Arati Prabhakar, director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Alexander Wang, founder and CEO of Scale AI. Register to watch here.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote today on Jack Lew’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The urgency to fill the position has risen after the start of the war between Israel and Gaza. There is some Republican opposition to Lew over his defense of the Iran nuclear agreement when he was treasury secretary during the Obama administration.

We’re watching to see how much opposition he receives during this precarious time. 

Guess who’s coming to dinner

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will host their fourth state dinner tonight, this time in honor of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Tonight’s dinner is part of Albanese’s three-day state visit to the United States that began Tuesday evening. It comes after Biden canceled the Australian (and Papua New Guinea) leg of his Indo-Pacific tour in May to deal with the debt limit crisis. Here’s what to expect: 

On the agenda: “During Biden and Albanese’s time together, which includes a news conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, they are expected to emphasize their shared interests,” per the New York Times’s Katie Rogers

  • “The most crucial areas of cooperation are a joint contract with Britain to develop and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines — which gives the United States a crucial technological edge against China — and expansion of a joint military presence in the Pacific islands, including Papua New Guinea.”
  • The Israel-Gaza war, the dysfunction in Congress and climate change are also all expected to be on the agenda, per Rogers. 

On the menu: Appalachia. “White House chefs — helped by guest toque Katie Button, chef and owner of Cúrate and La Bodega in Asheville, N.C. — are … leaning heavily into the culinary traditions of the American South, and Appalachia in particular,” our colleague Emily Heil writes.

  • First course: “The dinner will start with a salad of earthy farro cooked in apple cider and roasted beets, accompanied by popped sorghum, a grain native to Australia and cultivated throughout the Appalachian region. The first course also includes a pumpkin-seed-topped butternut squash soup.”
  • Main course: “The main course is tender short ribs braised in sarsaparilla, a soft drink akin to root beer that Button told reporters adds a ‘licorice, herbaceous, floral’ counter to the rich meat, served alongside sorghum-glazed carrots (yep, another use of the versatile grain). More autumnal vegetable bounty comes in the form of Brussels sprouts, a celery root puree and a carrot jus.”

The entertainment? “The White House scrapped plans to have the new wave band the B-52s perform at Wednesday’s state dinner for Australia’s prime minister after deciding that it would be inappropriate at a time when ‘so many are facing sorrow and pain,’ in the words of Jill Biden,” per the Associated Press’s Darlene Superville. Instead, “the entertainment will be instrumental music provided by the Marine band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings.”

Progressives rebel against Biden’s handling of Israel-Gaza crisis

Our colleagues Marisa Iati and Colby Itkowitz are out this morning with a look at the growing number of progressives who are upset with Biden’s handling of the violence in Israel and Gaza. To them, Biden’s response to the crisis has been unacceptable — and some argue that “Biden and other Democratic leaders are making a political miscalculation if they assume young liberals will support them regardless of their position on Israel.” Here’s an excerpt:

“From climate change to student loans to labor activism, Biden’s policies and rhetoric have won over many liberals who have long been suspicious of him, and several prominent progressive leaders vowed last summer to back Biden for another term,” our colleagues write. 

  • “But in recent days, former staffers to congressional Democrats have criticized Biden’s refusal to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested after protesting at the White House and the Capitol making the same demand. A State Department official and a staff member for Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) resigned. Crowd members booed a Muslim White House official who spoke at the funeral of a Palestinian American boy killed in what authorities say was a hate crime.”
  • “With the election a year away, the war could well fade into the background by the time Americans cast their ballots. But in interviews, progressive voters and younger activists said they will not forget Biden’s full-throated support of Israel, and Arab and Muslim groups have also expressed anger about U.S. backing for Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza, which Palestinian officials say have killed about 5,800 people.”

Tag yourself! Theo and Leigh Ann are the melting emoji and Tobi is the line face emoji. 

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