Sunday, June 23, 2024

Speaker Mike Johnson struggled to defend himself at a recent private party meeting on Capitol Hill when some House Republicans confronted their new leader asking for any evidence that he was leading them in a new direction or taking hits on their behalf. “Just Google my name and you’ll see,” was Mr. Johnson’s reply. He had been besieged by unflattering media coverage since winning the gavel (much of it focused on his evangelical Christianity and hard-line stances against abortion rights and same-sex marriage). Mr. Johnson, a fairly anonymous lawmaker before his election last month, has struggled to adjust to the new level of scrutiny that has come with his sudden ascent to the post second in line to the presidency. Some Republicans thought his response at the meeting reflected his steep learning curve as he settles into the job. Mr. Johnson’s allies concede he is learning on the job, but they argue he is running the House in a far more functional way than his predecessor did — and even demonstrating courage in doing so.

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority leader who had a toxic relationship with Mr. McCarthy but has quickly forged a close rapport with his successor, said in an interview. “Mike’s style is a lot different,” Mr. Scalise said of the change at the top. “He seeks input and then when he makes a decision, he sticks with it. He’s willing to lean in and take the heat and then go out and sell it.”

Mr. Johnson, who for decades has championed his hard-line views on social issues in opinion pieces and public speeches, has left plenty to dig through to show the heavy influence his religious beliefs have on his policy stances and political worldview. Taylor Haulsee, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, said the speaker was “committed to building consensus by empowering the Republican leadership team and seeking counsel from members across the conference.”

Hard-right Republicans and their allies outside the government are concerned that Mr. Johnson is veering toward the same pragmatism and establishment tendencies that drove his predecessors in the job, despite describing himself as an “arch-conservative” and pledging allegiance to former President Donald J. Trump.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, commended Mr. Johnson in a statement for embracing a bipartisan measure to keep government funding flowing. “If he keeps doing that, I think we can get a lot done that will help a lot of people,” Mr. Schumer said.

For now, while there may be brewing frustration with Mr. Johnson from the right, most Republicans do not think there is any appetite to oust another speaker before the 2024 election. “He started in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Scalise said. “I can tell each week he’s definitely got a fuller grasp of the job.”

Ruth Graham contributed reporting.

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