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The challenges that lie ahead for new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson


After more than three weeks of paralysis, the House of Representatives is back in business. Since new House Speaker Mike Johnson took the gavel yesterday, members have seen a flurry of legislative activity on the floor. But with new leadership in place, House Republicans could be headed for a new collision course as they take up more controversial bills. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has been very busy keeping an eye on all of this. Hi, Claudia.


SUMMERS: OK, so Speaker Johnson ascended to the speakership after - counting here - three contenders failed before him and, let's not forget, after the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Hard-line conservatives clearly unleashed much of the political chaos that dominated this month. So did they win?

GRISALES: Well, from their vantage point, those who ousted McCarthy, they'd say yes. They showed the muscle that they had in the conference, throughout the process that followed, and they were led by former President Trump, who had loud cheers or even jeers for certain members as he weighed in often on the search for a new speaker. Now, they didn't get their first choice for speaker. This was House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan. But they found an ally in Johnson, who has, at times, aligned himself with their objectives. But one common complaint we heard from the rest of the conference is that these agitators burned a bridge without a plan - that is, a clear path on who would replace McCarthy. And this unleashed this chaos you mentioned. And that may have deeply damaged this image that Republicans are capable of governing just ahead of a presidential election year.

SUMMERS: OK, so now that they've got a new speaker, what types of new challenges are House Republicans going to confront?

GRISALES: Plenty. Some say this is where the real work begins. They're on the clock, with just three weeks to go before a November 17 deadline to avert a government shutdown. And there's also a White House supplemental funding request for aid for Israel and Ukraine, and not all Republicans are on board with this.

SUMMERS: I mean, Claudia, that sounds like a pretty tall order. And I follow the House pretty closely. Johnson does not have a lot of leadership experience.


SUMMERS: Is - do people think he's ready for the challenge?

GRISALES: Well, he says he is, and House Republicans say he is. But the devil is in the details. He's going to be tested quickly and repeatedly with this series of legislative demands facing him in such a tight window. For the conference, Johnson was the right person for this moment. He has better connections throughout. He's respected, and he didn't have the kind of political baggage that hurt the contenders before him. But there's clearly concerns how a new speaker who doesn't have a lot of leadership experience will lead this fractious conference and divided chamber against some very hard deadlines and difficult issues.

SUMMERS: OK, so Democrats are in the Senate, and, of course, President Biden is a Democrat, which means that Speaker Johnson will have to work with Democrats to pass bills, including those spending bills we were just talking about. How are Democrats approaching this?

GRISALES: Well, I talked to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries last night after they had talked to Johnson following his victory, and both seemed perhaps hopeful about a path forward in terms of working with him. Jeffries today told reporters, however, that they had very different points of opinion. For example, Jeffries doesn't doubt Johnson's commitment to his principles, which are strongly informed by his evangelical Christian faith, but he disagrees with many of them as they relate to, quote, "inclusive America." So that's access to abortion rights and protections for the LGBTQ community. And that mirrors where a lot of the Democratic caucus stands. That said, in a surprise today, President Biden met with Johnson and Jeffries, perhaps in a sign of goodwill.

SUMMERS: Any regrets among House Democrats that they helped with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ouster earlier this month?

GRISALES: It doesn't appear so. That said, it's also clear they're in the minority. They didn't have a say who was going to replace McCarthy. And after this very chaotic time, they're apprehensive if Johnson will be able to work with them in a bipartisan fashion, especially after seeing the price that McCarthy paid for doing that when hard-liners initiated his ouster after the bipartisan debt limit deal and the current government temporary funding measure that's in place now.

SUMMERS: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much. 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.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.