Florida congressional delegation split on new House speaker Mike Johnson

'Mike Johnson is a Godly man,' Rep. Matt Gaetz says. 'He is a thoughtful man. He understands the complexity of policy decisions.'
Posted at 5:35 PM, Oct 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-25 17:35:12-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The gridlock in Congress appears to have finally come to a close as Republicans ended their infighting to unify behind Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson. The near monthlong mess was kicked off by a Florida congressman who says it was worth it, though his colleagues disagree.

The effort took 22 days, 14 candidates and four nominees to reach an unanimous caucus consensus Wednesday afternoon. Republicans came together to tap Johnson after weeks of indecision as wars rage in Ukraine and Israel and another government shutdown approaches.

"Mike Johnson is a Godly man," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1) said. "He is a thoughtful man. He understands the complexity of policy decisions."

It was Gaetz who spurred the nearly monthlong situation. The Republican spearheaded the effort to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The Floridian sounded as though he felt vindicated while speaking to reporters earlier in the day.

"I trust Mike Johnson," Gaetz said. "I know he wants to achieve the goals I want to achieve."

Gaetz's Florida colleagues, however, didn't share his certainty that the hat change was worth the GOP's public meltdown.

"The last three weeks, I would say, have been probably some of the most frustrating and debilitating weeks that we have suffered up here in Washington,” said Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL-3). "A lot of credibility has been lost."

Cammack said her party still needs to address its dysfunction, the trust issues, common strategy and improved communication.

"Until we can address those four issues that are really the core issues of how we got to this level of dysfunction, I don't think we'll be able to move forward in a productive way," she said. "Was it worth it? I don't believe so, but when you are handed lemons, you make lemonade."

Even so — Cammack and fellow Florida Republicans sounded optimistic about Johnson. That included Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL-19), who posted his endorsement of Johnson after Donalds lost his bid for the gavel.

Democrats, meanwhile, remain concerned that Frost is too partisan.

"He's a very dangerous, far-right individual," Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL-10) said.

Frost took issue with Johnson's support of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election and his opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Frost also questioned the speaker’s vow to work with the minority party.

"I hope he can come to us as Democrats, and we can work together at funding the government, which is one of the most important things ahead of us over the next several weeks," Frost said.

Cooperation within Johnson's own Republican party may become his biggest challenge. The division remains despite the Wednesday fanfare, and political pundits caution voters have taken note of the GOP issues.

"It’s made them look like they can't governor when they control the House," Dr. Susan MacManus, University of South Florida professor emerita. “The worst possible imagery you can have for a chamber going into what’s promising to be a very very contentious election year."

Johnson has released an aggressive plan to approve a spending plan and aid for at least Israel in the coming days. It remains unclear if Republicans will find enough unity to approve the measures.