It certainly *seems* – and I stress *seems* – like Republicans have finally managed to thread the Speaker needle and will elect Mike Johnson of Louisiana in a couple hours. When the caucus did a roll call late yesterday evening a few voted present but none voted against him. But 20 or so weren’t there. Those who were put on a big show of unity in a late evening press conference and the consensus seems to be that it’s happening. There’s a bit of uncertainty created by that non-trivial number not showing up for that final key vote. But no members have made any announcements or moves overnight or this morning that suggest they’re going to oppose Johnson on the floor or take any steps to halt his momentum.
My best guess is it probably happens. But given the events of the last three weeks we can’t be certain until we see the actual vote.
How did they finally pull this off?
The gist is that Johnson is a fairly conventional but not terribly loud right winger. He is also a key election denier, unlike Tom Emmer. Those factors seem to be enough for the far right side of the caucus and the Crazy Eight. But he’s genial and less abrasive than most Freedom Caucus types. Mix in a significant degree of exhaustion and that’s the combination of factors that puts us on the cusp of having a new Speaker.
One thing to keep in mind is that Johnson played a key but often ignored role in the plot to overturn the 2020 election, as my old boss and mentor Paul Glastris explains here (more in depth discussion here). In the final weeks of 2020, many House Republicans wanted to fight the results of the presidential election but for many the zany conspiracy theories coming out of the White House were a bit too hot and lurid. Johnson stepped forward to provide them with a seemingly high-brow legalese version of election denial. It relied on the baseless ‘independent state legislature’ theory that even the Trump Supreme Court later rejected. The argument was that the emergency expansion of vote-by-mail in reaction to the COVID pandemic was actually unconstitutional. Since this accounted for millions of votes in critical states the whole election result was therefore suspect.
This was a way to get behind overturning the results of the election without relying on Italian satellites or voting machine conspiracy theories. It was some constitutional thing and a bunch of fancy lawyers in bow ties said it was legit. This turned out to be quite important. Most House members who refused to certify the results of the election cited Johnson’s argument as the basis for their decision.