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October 26, 2023

Both of Montana’s federal representatives joined the rest of the GOP caucus in voting for Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson in his bid for speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. 

Johnson, an attorney, Christian conservative and 2020 presidential election denier, brings some version of order to the House after three weeks without a speaker. His predecessor, California Republican Kevin McCarthy, was ousted amid a budget crisis earlier this month, the first time in national history that a speaker was removed through a procedural move called a motion to vacate. Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale, a prominent member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, was a consistent vote and agitator against McCarthy during the leadership struggle. 

After three failed candidacies by other members, Johnson was a unanimous selection of Republicans on the House floor, enough to garner the speakership by a 220-209 vote. 

Rosendale, who represents Montana’s eastern House district, lauded Johnson in an interview with MTN Wednesday as a “man of integrity” who would open the speaker’s office to rank-and-file members, not just lobbyists. 

“I think the biggest difference is we’re going to have a level of trust and confidence in the commitments that he makes to us, that we can rely on their being carried out,” he told the news station. 

A major political challenge awaits Johnson, the same one that dogged McCarthy. 

Without the passage of some sort of stopgap funding measure, the government faces a deadline of Nov. 17 to avert a shutdown. Many of the Republicans who voted against McCarthy — Rosendale included — did so in part because he ultimately supported a bipartisan measure to temporarily fund the government through that date when it faced a shutdown on Oct. 1. But Johnson, who opposed previous continuing resolutions, is reportedly shopping around a plan to pass another stopgap funding measure through January or April in order to pass a dozen individual appropriations bills, as opposed to omnibus spending measures that are detested by the far right. Freedom Caucus-aligned members seem willing to trust Johnson on this front, according to national reporting. 

Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who filed the original motion to oust McCarthy, told NBC News that he’s open to Johnson’s plan.

“I don’t like governing by continuing resolution. But Kevin McCarthy wanted to govern by continuing resolution to get us to the next continuing resolution,” Gaetz told the outlet. “I think Mike Johnson has a lot more credibility that a bridge would be a bridge to single-subject spending bills, not a bridge to just the old ways of Washington that empowered McCarthy’s lobbyist donors.”

Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who represents the state’s western district, was a McCarthy backer and highly critical of his eastern counterpart’s votes on both the speakership and on spending bills. Nevertheless, he had fond words for Johnson. 

“Mike is talented, thoughtful and conservative and I am proud to have cast my vote for him as Speaker of the House,” Zinke said in a statement posted to social media. “I’ve visited with Mike about his priorities and have his assurance that his frontside focus is on securing the border, reigning [sic] in Biden’s anti-American spending, and taking care of our troops and veterans.”

Johnson has served in the House since 2017. He was previously vice chair of the House GOP conference and chair of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus within the party’s congressional delegation. 

He’s worked as a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nationalist legal group, and is staunchly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. In 2020, he argued against certifying the results of President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. He led the amicus brief that more than 100 Republican lawmakers filed in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal effort to invalidate election results in four key states. 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Regardless of Rosendale, Walker’s Running for House 

Former state lawmaker Ed Walker is the latest Republican to announce a bid for Montana’s Eastern U.S. House district in 2024, and he’s taking it a step further than most. While a laundry list of Republicans have said they’ll run for the seat if incumbent Matt Rosendale runs for U.S. Senate, a step he’s reportedly considering but has yet to officially take, Walker told the Billings Gazette he’s ready to run for the seat no matter what Rosendale does.

“I don’t know what Congressman Rosendale’s intentions are, but I think if we’re going to secure the borders, if we’re going to stop all the spending that’s going on, we need a conservative candidate that’s going to start building a campaign today,” Walker told the Gazette’s Tom Lutey. 

Walker, from Billings, served in the state Senate from 2011 to 2013. 

Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Daines and Tester — Hawkish in Different Ways 

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, introduced a bill last week that would prevent the federal government from issuing visas to holders of Palestinian passports and from granting those individuals parole status as war rages in Gaza. Daines’ Democratic counterpart, Jon Tester, meanwhile, is pushing a Biden administration proposal that would link federal defense support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Tester is chair of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense, a position that gives him a great deal of influence in shaping military spending. 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannit

On Background

55 Things You Need to Know About Mike Johnson: Including, per Politico, that he once called homosexuality “inherently unnatural.” 

Tester calls Israel/Ukraine aid essential: Montana’s federal delegation weighs in on the Biden administration’s spending plan for Israel and Ukraine in this piece by the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey.