Washington | Conservative Republican Mike Johnson was on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives, ending three weeks of political chaos.
His election, with a simple majority in the House after the failure of three earlier candidates, reduces the risks of a government shutdown next month and of key legislation such as that around the AUKUS pact being left hanging.
Mr Johnson, 51, swept through on the first ballot 220 to 209. He had the support of all Republicans in a sign of reunification for the party, which had been tearing itself apart after the ousting of former speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“We are ready to get to work again,” Mr Johnson said after taking the gavel.
Mr Johnson, who rallied Republicans around Donald Trump’s judicial campaign to overturn the 2020 election results, received a strong endorsement from the former president on Wednesday.
“I think he’s going to be a fantastic Speaker,” Mr Trump said from the New York court dealing with one of several judicial processes against him.
With a speaker now in place, US lawmakers can get back to work, passing legislation that will help fund aid to Israel, military support to Ukraine and to move Australia’s AUKUS submarines pact closer to reality.
In a letter to colleagues, Mr Johnson vowed to advance overdue spending legislation and ensure that the US government does not shut down when current funding expires on November 17.
In his speech, he said he would prioritise border security and establish a bipartisan commission to examine ways to tackle the ballooning $US33 trillion ($52.3 trillion) national debt.
Attention will now turn to Mr Johnson’s response to President Joe Biden’s $US105 billion supplemental bill to provide aid for Israel and Ukraine amid their wars, shoring up the US border with Mexico and bolstering America’s submarine production base, allowing the AUKUS military pact with Australia and the United Kingdom to proceed.
Although his Republican colleagues broadly support funding for Israel and the US border, they are divided over further support for Ukraine, and there are lingering issues with AUKUS and domestic submarine production funding.
Biden, Albanese optimistic
US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in Washington on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) they were optimistic AUKUS legislation would be passed by the end of the year.
“Democrats and Republicans alike understand the strategic value that AUKUS brings to our nations. And I urge Congress to pass our AUKUS legislation this year,” President Biden said.
He said it was time to “get moving”.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get money for AUKUS because it’s overwhelmingly in our interest.”
Mr Albanese said he was confident after his talks with Democrats and Republicans that there was sufficient support for legislation enabling AUKUS to proceed.
“Australia appreciates the [Biden] administration’s efforts to operationalise AUKUS and work with Congress to pass the legislation needed to realise our AUKUS ambitions,” he said.
“I certainly appreciate once again, Mr President, your call for AUKUS legislation to be passed this year.
“I think that would be a very good thing. It is in the interest of Australia, but it’s also in the interest of the United States. And everyone that I have spoken to across the political spectrum are all supportive of the AUKUS arrangements.”
As the new Speaker, Mr Johnson will have to confront the same challenges that felled Mr McCarthy.
These include reconciling the demands of the caucus’ hardline members with the reality of a blocking Democratic majority in the Senate and Mr Biden in the Oval Office. This means no laws can be passed in Washington without bipartisan support.
Republicans control the House only 221-212 over Democrats, leaving Mr Johnson with little room for detractors to win the gavel. However, he had no opponents during the private caucus roll call.
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