WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Johnson, a relatively little-known Louisiana Republican and low-ranking member of the GOP leadership team, became the party’s latest nominee for House speaker Tuesday night after three other hopefuls fizzled out.
He was nominated just hours after Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., beat Johnson and six other candidates to seize the nomination, only to quickly drop his bid after he failed to secure the near-unanimous GOP support needed on the House floor.
Johnson, the GOP Conference vice chair, could suffer a fate similar to Emmer’s. It remains unclear whether he can garner the 217 Republican votes — a simple majority of the full House — needed to win the coveted gavel.
A floor vote could happen as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
Elected to Congress in 2016, Johnson, 51, is popular and well-liked among his Republican colleagues, and he has carefully avoided making many political enemies on Capitol Hill.
Johnson has a broad base of support, following a path similar to those of two of his political mentors: Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a fellow Louisianan, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom also won nominations for speaker but dropped out. All three began as state legislators before they won seats in Congress and were head of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of conservatives in Congress, before they moved up to leadership posts.
Johnson is seeking to achieve something the last three nominees failed to do: win at least 217 of the 221 Republican votes needed to become speaker. It will be Johnson’s decision whether and when to hold such a vote. Jordan held multiple votes and failed, while Scalise and Emmer bowed out before they held any floor votes, recognizing they didn’t have a path to victory.
Nationally, Johnson has largely flown under the radar, avoiding the inflammatory rhetoric or theatrical moments many lawmakers use to gain attention. But behind the scenes, he can be influential.
On Tuesday, as Johnson was in the running to be speaker, the political team of former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., circulated a New York Times article that called him “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” on Jan. 6, 2021, aimed at keeping then-President Donald Trump in power even though he lost.
The Times reported last year that many Republicans who voted to discount pro-Biden electors cited an argument crafted by Johnson, which was to steer clear of the lies about mass fraud and instead hang the objection on the claim that certain states’ voting changes in the pandemic were unconstitutional.
Another wild card in the speaker’s race is Trump, who knifed Emmer on Tuesday after he won the nomination. Emmer voted to certify the 2020 election, drawing the ire of Trump allies.
Johnson picked up some momentum before he got out of the gate. Before voting even began, one rival, Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., dropped out and threw his support behind Johnson.
And to win Tuesday night, Johnson beat out the four remaining GOP candidates. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., was eliminated in the first round after having come in last.
Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams, R-Texas, was out after the second round after he earned the lowest vote total, and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., dropped out and endorsed Johnson, a GOP source said.
In the third and final round, Johnson defeated Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a Freedom Caucus member and one of four Black Republicans in the House. The lopsided vote was 128 to 29, a GOP source said; 44 Republicans cast their ballots for someone else.
McCarthy got 43 of those votes, while Jordan got one, according to Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. Those 44 votes could create a big headache for Johnson in a House floor vote.
As votes were being tallied, Rep. Randy Weber of Texas left the room and said he’s not confident any of the candidates can get to 217, citing level of support for people who weren’t even candidates.
When dozens of people “vote for ‘other’ — in police work they call that a clue,” he said.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com