House Republicans selected their fourth nominee for speaker in three weeks on Tuesday: Rep. Mike Johnson, a Louisianan who has received more campaign money from the oil and gas industry over the course of his seven-year congressional career than any other industry and has repeatedly downplayed climate change.
One-hundred-and-twenty-eight members voted for Johnson by secret ballot after three rounds late Tuesday evening, when he emerged as the majority vote-getter in a pool of five other candidates.
It’s far from guaranteed he’ll get the 217 votes necessary to win the gavel on the House floor.
In the final round of voting Tuesday night, 43 members voted for the ousted speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to be reinstated rather than support Johnson.
One Republican cast a ballot for Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a failed speaker nominee, while 29 Republicans opted for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.).
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) went through this same process earlier Tuesday only to withdraw within hours after opposition mounted.
But there was no firm opposition during a roll call test vote after Johnson’s nomination, although several members were not present.
If Johnson ultimately wins the necessary votes to succeed McCarthy, the vice chair of the House GOP Conference will ensure representatives from oil-rich Louisiana occupy the top two seats in party leadership. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who unsuccessfully ran for speaker two weeks ago, is in the No. 2 slot.
The right-leaning American Energy Alliance in the past has named Johnson an “energy champion” for his opposition of subsidies and the “special interest giveaways” the group contends will lead to higher energy costs.
He also has the support of House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who delivered a speech nominating Johnson for the position Tuesday morning.
“I talked about both his heart and his mind, that he really understands the members of the conference and their districts and their goals,” she said.
“From a policy perspective, he has worked to develop comprehensive policy agendas, and he’s the one who I believe can build the trust in the conference and lead us so that we can fulfill the promises we made.”
Johnson’s ascent could mark a major shift in rhetoric around energy, environmental and climate issues from the highest rungs of the leadership ladder: He has a record of downplaying the climate crisis and questioning the science linking human activity to global warming.
“The climate is changing, but the question is, is it being caused by natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history? Or is it changing because we drive SUVs? I don’t believe in the latter,” he said at a town hall in 2017. “I don’t think that’s the primary driver.”
That assessment is a striking departure from the way McCarthy sought to appeal to a new generation of Republican voters by encouraging the development of a GOP energy policy plank while moving the party further away from its history of straight-up climate denialism.
Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, has also been working to grow the ranks of Republicans who acknowledge human contributions to the warming planet and support reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The group is now up to 81 members.
Asked whether he was concerned about Johnson’s past comments, Curtis, in a text message, said Johnson told him, “He would be very supportive of my efforts and the caucus.”
A spokesperson for Johnson did not respond to a request for comment about the congressman’s current views on climate change.
In his former role as chair of the Republican Study Committee, Johnson was also aggressive in messaging against the Green New Deal, producing a 13-page memo decrying the progressive platform as a “Greedy New Steal” and sponsoring an anti-Green New Deal resolution.
Advocates in the conservative energy arena — including Mike McKenna, a veteran energy lobbyist who worked in the Trump White House — said they don’t see much difference between Johnson and most fellow conservatives when it comes to their views on energy policy.
Even Johnson’s 2 percent lifetime rating with the League of Conservation Voters, which scores lawmakers on their environmental votes in Congress, isn’t that much of an outlier: He shares that score with 23 other Republicans, and 24 Republicans have scores of 1 or zero percent.
Yet Tom Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance, told E&E News on Tuesday he would not endorse Johnson or any candidate for speaker other than Scalise, the group’s initial pick.
“We endorsed Steve Scalise because we thought he was the best man for the job. We still believe that is the case. Unfortunately, the Conference didn’t agree,” Pyle said. “We hope the Republicans come to an agreement soon on an alternative.”
Reporters Rebekah Alvey and Christian Robles contributed.