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Louisiana congressman Mike Johnson was selected as the fourth Republican nominee for Speaker of the House in less than a month, after Donald Trump torpedoed Tom Emmer’s bid and compounded the chaos that has gripped Capitol Hill for weeks.
Johnson, a vocal ally of Trump, was chosen late on Tuesday following a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. But several dozen fellow Republicans opposed Johnson’s nomination in a series of secret ballots, leaving the party with an uncertain path forward to select a new congressional leader.
House Republicans are expected to meet again on Wednesday morning, as Johnson works to shore up support from his fellow party members.
Johnson was elected hours after Emmer, the congressman from Minnesota, withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Republicans selected Emmer as their candidate in an effort to end nearly a month of congressional paralysis.
But his bid was doomed after Trump, the former US president and current frontrunner for the party’s nomination for the White House in 2024, slammed the congressman in a social media post, calling him “out-of-touch” and a “globalist RINO”, or Republican in name only.
He added that voting for Emmer would be a “tragic mistake”.
The intervention by Trump, Emmer’s subsequent departure from the race, and Johnson’s nomination marked the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has exposed sharp divisions within the Republican party and left Congress’s lower chamber rudderless at a critical time.
Kevin McCarthy, whose removal as Speaker three weeks ago during a rebellion led by rightwing Florida congressman Matt Gaetz triggered the chaos in the House, indicated that Trump’s comments about Emmer had been pivotal in sinking his candidacy.
“I think it makes the difference in this race,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon.
Emmer’s withdrawal also raised serious questions about whether Johnson or any other Republican will be able to unite the party to win a crucial vote on the floor of the House in the coming days. Emmer was the third Republican candidate for Speaker to call it quits in as many weeks.
Emmer is the House majority whip, and previously ran the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s campaign arm.
Even before Trump’s comments, he faced an uphill battle to be elected as Speaker by a simple majority of the 435-member chamber.
Republicans control the House by a razor-thin margin, so any Republican can only afford to lose a handful of votes from their own party’s benches to win, given Democrats have shown no willingness to back a Republican candidate. Jim Jordan lost three ballots last week, with more than 20 Republicans voting against him. Steve Scalise, the first nominee, withdrew before reaching a floor vote.
At least two dozen Republicans were reportedly opposed to Emmer’s candidacy, even before Trump launched his broadside at the Minnesotan.
Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Trump ally, said she had opposed Emmer’s candidacy because he had voted in favour of policies she opposed, including a gay marriage bill, funding for Ukraine and the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
“We need a Republican Speaker that reflects the values of Republican voters that can lead our conference,” Greene wrote on X.
Any successful contender will somehow need to overcome the party’s sharp divides and appeal to ultraconservatives and more traditional Republicans, including those who reject Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Emmer voted to certify Biden’s electoral college victory in the that election.
Some ultra-conservative House members also said they would not endorse Emmer for Speaker because the congressman has supported same-sex marriage.
Trump initially endorsed Jordan for Speaker. But earlier this week he said he was “trying to stay above” the speakership competition, telling reporters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday that he had “spoken to just about all the candidates”, saying they were “terrific people”.
The inability to elect a Speaker has significant consequences for US leadership at home and abroad.
The White House last week called on Congress to endorse a national security package that would provide billions of dollars in additional aid to Ukraine and Israel. But the House cannot vote on new legislation until a Speaker is selected.
Congress is also facing the looming threat of a costly shutdown in less than a month, unless lawmakers can agree on a new plan to fund the federal government.