Newly-minted Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., managed to unite one of the most fractured House Republican Conferences in modern history on Wednesday, but he was hardly considered a frontrunner to replace ex-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Johnson was elected by a unanimous House Republican caucus, ending three weeks of turmoil and multiple failed attempts to fill the speakership after McCarthy’s historic ousting. The GOP finally coalesced around Johnson Tuesday following a late-night conference vote behind closed doors.
“I think he has it,” a GOP lawmaker who was in the room during the vote told Fox News Digital at the time. But it came after a marathon day of meetings where several lawmakers jostled for the title of speaker. Tensions, at times, ran high.
Two GOP lawmakers in the room said that McCarthy had objected to suspending conference rules to expedite making Johnson speaker-designate, after Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., dropped out of the race over seemingly insurmountable opposition.
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“That’s not how you elect a speaker,” the two lawmakers recalled McCarthy saying. One of the two lawmakers agreed with McCarthy, the other was opposed.
The latter described it as an “outburst” and accused McCarthy of working behind the scenes against every speaker-designate thus far including Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Emmer.
“If you’ll notice, he’s endorsed all of them. They all got clobbered after that,” the Republican said. “All [he wants] to do is get back in power.”
McCarthy did endorse and vote for each of the nominees publicly. He declared his support for Scalise on Fox News, gave Jordan’s nominating speech, and endorsed Emmer and Johnson’s bids as well.
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But a source familiar with discussions said McCarthy attempted to block Johnson when it became clear he had the votes to win.
The source also said McCarthy refused to endorse Scalise after he got the GOP nomination two weeks ago. And later, when Jordan began to lose support, the source said McCarthy worked behind the scenes to put his weight behind a resolution to empower interim Speaker Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.
The possibility of a McCarthy return became tangible at one point on Tuesday — multiple sources confirmed to Fox News Digital that a plan was being floated by other members to reinstate McCarthy and give Jordan some sort of assistant speaker position.
A GOP aide told Fox News Digital ahead of the speaker vote Wednesday that such a plan was “a dumb idea” pushed by McCarthy and his circle to “seize power.”
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Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., fully blamed McCarthy for putting the House in a state of paralysis ahead of the vote on Johnson Wednesday. Mace was one of eight Republicans who voted along with Democrats to oust the ex-speaker.
“He was orchestrating and manipulating the entire situation, including organizing people to vote against Mike Johnson last night. So I’m going to put that on the former speaker. I’m not going to put that on the conference,” Mace said.
During the second closed-door speaker election the day, multiple lawmakers told reporters that dozens of holdouts not voting for the nominees were voting for McCarthy.
But Johnson nevertheless wound up scoring a decisive victory on Tuesday night when, during a roll call vote after he won the election, every Republican present vowed to support him behind closed doors.
Fox News Digital reached out to McCarthy’s office but did not immediately hear back.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson contributed to this report.
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