With the 2024 Presidential election a year away, Mike Johnson (R-LA) has been elected Speaker of the House of Representatives at a key time in the US electoral cycle. Peter Finn highlights pressing issues facing Johnson in the coming months including a factionalised Republican caucus, off-year elections, and brinkmanship over funding the federal government.
- This article is part of ‘The 2024 Elections’ series curated by Peter Finn (Kingston University). Ahead of the 2024 election, this series is exploring US elections at the state and national level. If you are interested in contributing to the series, contact Peter Finn (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On October 25th Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana was elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. One of the most important jobs in US politics, and second in line for the presidency, it is also fraught with pitfalls and difficulties. Below I map out four issues that will face Johnson in the coming months.
A restive Republican caucus
In January it took 15 votes for the Republican class of 2023 to elect Kevin McCarthy of California to the Speakership. After McCarthy agreed to a short term government funding bill (see also below) in late September, Republican representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called a motion to vacate against McCarthy, which led to his ouster as Speaker in early October: the first time that a speakership has ended in such a fashion. Since then three others (House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana) have seen their bids to become speaker end unsuccessfully due to internal party disagreements. Anticipating the election of Johnson, Gaetz said on Steve Bannon’s podcast that the election as speaker of ‘MAGA Mike Johnson, who, among other things, has denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and has troubling views on LGBTQ rights, shows the ascendance’ of the MAGA ‘movement’ within the Republican Party.
Managing the different factions of the Republican caucuses would be hard for any speaker, and one wonders how Johnson will do so for any length of time without engaging in the type of compromises that those such as Gaetz are unlikely to agree to?
Off year elections
Though the next set of federal elections are next year, there are a spate of off year elections happening over the remainder of this year. The Republican Party won the recent gubernatorial election in Johnson’s home state of Louisiana, and on November 7 in Kentucky and Mississippi there are further contests for governors’ mansions. While these elections will also be fought on local issues, the nationalisation of US politics (which has been mentioned as an issue in conversations with all state level experts spoken to thus far on a project on state and territory level politics I am leading) is almost certain to influence many voters. How this influence might play out, of course, depends on the priors of the voters in question, with those seeking order and stability probably reacting differently from those dissatisfied with the status quo or drawn by MAGA-like narratives or critiques of government spending.
Funding the federal government
The first test of whether Gaetz will try to thread the needle and balance different wings of the Republican Caucus or instead throw grit in the gears of governance is imminent and will become ever more pressing with each day that passes. The short-term federal government funding deal that led to the downfall of McCarthy expires in mid-November, meaning Johnson will need to decide relatively quickly whether he will engage in brinkmanship with the White House and the broader Democratic Party, undertake negotiations for either another short-term deal or a longer agreement, or some combination of these. If no deal is reached, then parts of the federal government will start shutting down from mid-November as funding is prioritised. Federal government shutdowns can be lengthy, with a Trump initiated shutdown following the 2018 midterms lasting 35 days.
Moving beyond domestic issues, the approach taken here will likely also impact funding for Ukraine & Israel.
2024 primary season
With the Republican Party’s Iowa Caucus now less than three months away on January 15th, the 2024 Presidential Election, itself just 12 short months away, will soon come to dominate US politics.
At present it seems that former President Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination with ease. However, even if this remains the case, beyond the presidential primary process there is a huge diversity of offices across the US election system that will be filled in November 2024, and there will be competitive Republican Party primaries to decide on party candidates for many of them. Only a small subset of these will be for the House of Representatives but given the small margin of the current Republican majority in the House these may draw significant attention. Speaker Johnson’s approach to the issues I’ve outlined may influence what types of candidates win Republican primaries.
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- Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics.
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