What we’ve learned about Mike Johnson so far

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Speaker Mike Johnson, who suddenly went from No. 7 in the House Republican leadership to No. 2 in the presidential line of succession, is learning in real time what it means to be the speaker of the House.

“He realizes that there’s a lot of work ahead of us,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), a centrist frontliner whom Johnson called Thursday morning.

The new speaker has major challenges ahead, including a government shutdown deadline that’s now just three weeks away, but here’s what we’ve been able to learn from his first full day on the job:

He isn’t getting a honeymoon: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) wasted no time before plopping a political hot potato right in Johnson’s lap, signaling Thursday she will be introducing a measure to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for her support for a recent pro-Palestinian protest on the Capitol campus.

Meanwhile, Democrats are threatening a countermove that would censure Greene, while Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) said he is separately planning to call up a resolution next week to expel embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). In the middle of it all is Johnson, who will need to balance the right’s desire to punish a left-wing member, the prospect for Democratic retribution and the possibility that his own slim majority could get slimmer.

He can expect some grace from the right: As we wrote in yesterday’s Huddle, Johnson won’t necessarily face the same pressures from conservatives that predecessor Kevin McCarthy did as he seeks a way forward on government funding. Most hard-right members said they are willing to give Johnson room to maneuver on a continuing resolution given (1) the short timeline and (2) his own history as a conservative hard-liner.

He might have more trouble, however, navigating the White House’s $106 billion supplemental funding request for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the border. While many Republicans want to keep those issues combined, conservatives are quickly hardening their stance around keeping Ukraine out of the package.

He’s still finding his footing as a top leader: Johnson is still low on the learning curve for the more public-facing aspects of the speakership. His first on-camera moment in the international spotlight, a Thursday morning confab with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, involved one word and a lot of nodding.

“I made a joke last night at the dinner that it might be too late for me to address the Congress,” Albanese joked. “Unfortunately,” Johnson responded, remaining silent as reporters and photographers were escorted from the room.

Later, Johnson was waylaid in the Will Rogers hallway by reporters seeking reaction to the mass shooting in Maine on Wednesday night. He stopped, but had to be coaxed in front of cameras and kept one hand clutched around a portfolio and the other in his pocket as he delivered brief remarks focused on the need for prayer.

He’s plotting a careful media strategy. In the not-quite two days since he was elected speaker nominee, Johnson has spoken in broad platitudes and brushed off pointed questions in his brief appearances before reporters. On Tuesday night, he responded to a question about the Supreme Court brief he authored in support of reviewing the 2020 presidential election with, “We’re not doing policy tonight,” and gave a similar response the next day.

He also took no questions during his two appearances before cameras Thursday, saving his first in-depth interview as speaker for the friendly confines of Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox News Channel program.

He’s trying to balance a busy schedule with a cranky conference: Lawmakers are now in Washington for the seventh straight week — an unusually long stretch, even without the stress of an internecine speaker battle — but they have little time to rest given the looming Nov. 17 appropriations deadline.

Johnson and fellow House leaders canceled a planned two-week recess to continue work on spending bills shortly after he took the oath Wednesday. He did offer members a short breather, giving them a long weekend at home, with votes not resuming until Wednesday.

Some members joked he could still do more: “I think a big party with a lot of beer would unite [us],” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).

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