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Can Rep. Mike Johnson get elected by the full House to take the gavel as speaker?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Twenty-three days until a government shutdown and still no speaker of the House, which means that Congress is at a standstill.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. And Republicans haven't even begun to work through the divisions that got everyone here in the first place. Yesterday, GOP House members voted and nominated Tom Emmer of Minnesota. That was just for a few hours, though, because he had to drop out when he couldn't lock down the votes to be elected by the full House. Then, lawmakers went back to the drawing board and nominated a fourth person to take former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's place - Congressman Mike Johnson from Louisiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: We're going to serve the people of this country. We're going to restore their faith in this Congress. You're going to see a new form of government, and we are going to move this quickly. This group here is ready to govern, and we're going to govern well. We're going to do what's right by the people.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has been clocking some long hours watching all this, and she's with us now again. Deirdre, good morning.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So can Congressman Johnson get elected by the full House?

WALSH: That still remains to be seen. But the plan is for the House to vote around noon today. He won the nomination inside the GOP conference, but as we've seen over and over again, he's going to need 217 votes if all members are present and voting on the House floor. Democrats are expected to stay united and vote for their leader, Hakeem Jeffries.

MARTIN: So tell us more about Johnson. And I'm real - I'm interested in what he means by this new form of government.

WALSH: He's 51, a social conservative and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He was elected in 2016. Johnson's really a top Trump loyalist. He was an impeachment manager for Trump's team back in 2020. He's a constitutional lawyer, and he was one of the Republicans drafting arguments against certifying the electoral count from some states on January 6. He's also currently a member of GOP leadership. That's been a strike against others who've won and had to drop out, like Emmer and Steve Scalise. So it's unclear to me in terms of this new form of government that he's talking about.

MARTIN: And you mentioned that Johnson is a Trump loyalist. How much is President Trump influencing this whole process?

WALSH: You know, a lot. You know, Tom Emmer, who won the nomination yesterday, was forced to withdraw, as you said, hours later after Trump took to social media and called Emmer a RINO, a Republican in name only. Trump's support wasn't enough to elect the person he endorsed. That was Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who was forced to drop out after three failed votes on the floor. But Trump's opposition was a huge factor in derailing Emmer's really short stint as the speaker nominee. Emmer's vote to certify the 2020 election became an issue for him with his colleagues, and now Republicans are turning to someone who helped lead the charge to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

MARTIN: OK. So I keep going back to what Representative Johnson said about this new form of government. Has - how - these last three weeks - what does this say about the Republicans' ability to govern? And what do they say about it?

WALSH: It's really been chaos. And Republicans have been openly venting and frustrated that the House hasn't been able to function. We're now less than a month away from the deadline to avoid a government shutdown. And the thing that got Republicans into this mess, when a group of hard-right members mad that the speaker passed a bill with Democrats, is now going to have to happen if Congress can avoid a shutdown. There's also concern about being unable to vote to help Israel, a top ally, who's at war.

After Republicans nominated Johnson last night, there was sort of a mini GOP pep rally. Some say he's someone who can lead their party and unite the factions that have been at war with each other, and maybe they finally turned a corner. But all this infighting has really left a mark. Hard-liners from solid-red districts basically say compromise is unacceptable. Those who represent swing districts say the Republicans won the majority in 2022 to show they can get things done, and this messy infighting makes them look incompetent.

MARTIN: And if Representative Johnson does get the gavel, what's on the agenda first?

WALSH: I mean, that nomination to avoid a shutdown on November 17. There's this huge foreign aid package that his own party is split on. Johnson opposes more money for Ukraine. We also expect Republicans will focus back on an impeachment inquiry. That's something Johnson was a big part of.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, I hope you get some rest today.

WALSH: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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