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CNN Live Event/Special

GOP Faces Crucial Test with Speaker Vote. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 25, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our special coverage, live from Capitol Hill where minutes from now, there could -- emphasize could -- be a new House Speaker. Finally after 22 days, more than three weeks and four nominees, Republicans seem to be rallying behind somebody who a lot of people were Googling overnight, Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson. We are standing by for the vote.

I want to go to Lauren Fox, who has been there as well, with the rest of our team, reporting on this surprise development last night. Lauren, I know you have been talking to some of the hold-outs. What are you hearing?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. There were a number of members, a handful of them who voted present last night in that private Republican meeting. But Johnson was able to change minds, including the mind of Representative Mark Amodei. He was a Republican from Nevada. I spoke with him this morning and he said, he voted present because he and Johnson have not run in the same circles before.

He did not know him well and his argument was that if he's going to go back to Nevada and argue he supported someone for Speaker, he needed to know that person was open and amenable to some of the issues that are really important back in his state, specifically some lands issues that he wanted to talk to Johnson about. So, he had about a half-an- hour conversation with Johnson last night. Then he had a meeting with Johnson's staff this morning. And he said after the conversation with Johnson, he felt comfortable saying yes, committing to voting for him on the floor.

But it just shows you, Dana, the work that has gone into getting the votes that you need to become the Speaker. Now, Johnson started with just a handful of people who are outstanding. Obviously, that was a far cry from the more than 20 that Jim Jordan had to convince and never could, that Tom Emmer had to convince and never could, but it shows you how much work Republicans have been putting in behind the scenes to both air their grievances, but also try to convince members to vote for them if they are vying for the speakership. Mike Johnson on track to likely win this gavel. We're waiting for that vote to begin shortly. Dana?

BASH: Thank you, Lauren. And as we are watching the, what they would like to call up here, a bed check, that they are making sure that the people who are supposed to be there, the members of Congress are there. We can see Mike Johnson there hugging a fellow member, working the floor as he awaits the beginning of the vote. First, he will be nominated of course, and they will start to vote on whether or not he should be Speaker.

As we watch that, I want to bring in our panel here. And Charlie Dent, you are the only one of us sitting here who actually served in Congress, and you served for one term?

FMR. REP. CHARLIE DENT (R-PA): Yeah, with Mike.

BASH: With Mike Johnson because we should note that you served for quite awhile. He's only been there for six years -- six terms rather. No, excuse me, six years since 2016.

DENT: Yeah, I served seven terms.

BASH: Three terms.

DENT: It's nearly 14 years. Yeah, look, Mike Johnson, I think he's going to probably win today simply because they are all exhausted. They are tired. He doesn't have a long track record, not a lot of tape, so think they'll find him acceptable. Now, this is certainly a win for the Trumping (ph) populist wing of the party. And I think there's also a question, if I were an Emmer person, I would be a little upset that Emmer beat Johnson, just as Scalise beat Jordan, but the small Trump (ph) wing of the party tries to impose its will.

And so now, Johnson is going to step into a tough situation because now he's going to have to tell many of his long-time allies that he needs to cut a deal on funding come November 17th and then probably again to finish the funding bills some time after that.

BASH: You mean the things that Kevin McCarthy was thrown out for?

DENT: Correct. He's going to have to...


BASH: He's going to do the same thing that McCarthy would have had to have done.

DENT: Absolutely, unless we're going to have a perpetual shutdown, a government shutdown and a long-term continuing resolution would be a disaster. So that's the reality. So he's going to step into this. Will the folks who are now supporting him give him the same slack that they never gave to Kevin McCarthy?

BASH: Susan Collins, who has served in Congress for a very long time, she's the top Republican now on the Appropriations Committee, a really important job. She was asked this morning by one of our colleagues what she thinks of Mike Johnson. And her response was, I don't know, I have to Google him.

(LAUGHTER) And I think that singular story says so much about the lack of knowledge about this guy, and why he ultimately was picked for that very reason.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, if you do Google him, you will find some video out there of him, and the thing you'll notice is how moderate in tone he is.


His disposition is not one of a confrontational conservative. In fact, I was chatting with one of his key advisers this morning and they said, you know, Johnson is a man of deep Christian faith and he often says that I'm a staunch conservative, but I'm not angry about it. And if you look at the video of him on the floor, his first floor speech in fact in 2017, he talked about civility, the need to work across the aisle, the importance of institutions. And so, I think if you're comparing him to someone you have seen on TV before like Jim Jordan, this is a totally different departure. And the phrase that keeps coming up is that he's going to be a governing conservative.

He's a staunch conservative, but he's already laid out this agenda for the next year on funding the government, on dealing with a farm bill, which I'm told was a lot of conversation going on with the conservatives about, hey, you guys got to support a farm bill, and how to get this done in a way that could unify the Republicans. So, I'm going to take a glass half-full approach today and say this is -- Trump is going to be happy about this, but I think institutionalists and moderate Republicans are going to like the fact that he's not going to be on TV screaming his head off every night. He's going to be more of a legislative tactician...

BASH: Yeah.

JENNINGS: ...a legislative mechanic (ph).

BASH: Yeah. I think there are a lot of -- I know there are a lot of Democrats out there who will disagree with you about saying that he's very different from Jim Jordan. In fact, one said to me, the only difference is that Mike Johnson wears a suit jacket and Jim Jordan doesn't.

Standby there because I want to bring in Manu Raju. Manu, you just spoke to the Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. What did he say about Mike Johnson?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. He said they have not spoken yet, even as we expect Mike Johnson to become the Speaker of the House this afternoon. He did tell me he doesn't see any daylight between Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy. He went on to say, I don't believe his politics are more conservative than Kevin McCarthy. He said that McCarthy and Mike Johnson voted to overturn the presidential election. He talked about their position on abortion. He talked about their position on social security and Medicare. He says there's no daylight between Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy on those issues.

So you're seeing a bit about how Democrats plan to message this. Also, there's a question too among some, (inaudible) was it worth the vote to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, given that the ideologically on some these issues Johnson is more ideological than Kevin McCarthy on some of these social issues in particular. But Hakeem Jeffries said, no, he told me he has no regrets for the vote to oust Kevin McCarthy from this speakership. He also made clear if Mike Johnson tries to move forward on any spending bill to keep the government open and seek deeper spending cuts, he said that Democrats will not go for that. So that is one of the big redlines and the big fights that will be coming under the Johnson's speakership.

So here, just in a matter of moments too, Dana, on the House floor, we expect that Elise Stefanik, the Conference Chairwoman to give the nominating speech for Mike Johnson before they kick off this roll call vote. But, as you can hear from comments from Hakeem Jeffries, the moment he assumes the speakership, big fights ahead with Democrats. Dana?

BASH: Yeah. No question about that. And we are going to hear shortly on the floor those nominating speeches and we're going to talk a lot more about what we are all collectively learning quite quickly about Mike Johnson. And we are going to take a quick break and be back with the vote soon. Don't go anywhere.



BASH: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage. You're looking at the House floor and quite an interesting image if you look up towards the Speaker's Chair to the right, you see the back of Patrick McHenry, who is the Acting House Speaker. And the man talking to him is Mike Johnson, who is going to have a vote. He's the Speaker Designee by the House Republicans and there will be a vote shortly on whether or not he can just move, I don't know, a couple feet to the right and actually get the gavel in a formal way. We're going to watch for that.

And as we do, we are going to keep talking to my panel here. And actually for all of you, I want our viewers to see a moment that happened late last night when he was nominated by his fellow House Republicans and went before the press.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Johnson, you helped lead the efforts to overturn the 2020 election...



BASH: So, he was asked about efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He wouldn't answer it and he got a lot of help from his fellow Republicans. The back story here that we're going to be hearing a lot more about is he is an attorney and he helped lead the effort to sign what's known as an amicus brief, a friend of the court brief, to push a Texas lawsuit to overturn the election results, not in Texas, but in other states -- swing states. The Supreme Court didn't hear that. They said we're not even going to hear this case. It was something he is very, very involved in and at that point, he did not answer the question. It was a very legitimate question.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It was an important question and I think we deserve the answer honestly.


And I would love to have the answer before he became Speaker. I'm not sure that the Republican Party is going to demand that. When I see that clip, it reminds me that this is the party of Donald Trump still. And that this party is a great threat to our democracy, particularly if you have someone who still won't say that the election results of 2020 are valid. Because of the role that the Speaker plays in certifying the elections, and if he is Speaker in December of 2024 when we will have to certify another presidential election, if he can't get it right for 2020, what will it mean for our democracy in 2024?

Now filing a lawsuit, lots of people file lawsuits, but when you lose, can you accept that you have lost and state the truth? And it didn't seem like he was able to do that after being asked the question and he definitely got support by the people standing behind him.

JENNINGS: I think that I want to speak for him. But my general view is, they had a narrow constitutional view about the election. They lost and then he moved on. And I don't think -- I mean, you can see in his statements and his plans that he has put out for the conference that he's not focused on the past. He's look ahead to the next year and what the Republicans have to do. And so he's going to know Joe Biden is the president because he's about to sit across the table from him shortly as the Speaker of the House.

BASH: Well, I know it does seem like what kind of world are we in when we have to still ask this question. We don't know if he has moved on and won't know that until he says that Joe Biden is the legitimate president, which will put him at odds with the former president who is a candidate for president again.

DENT: Well, look, he's going to have to answer that question, sooner or later. He just can't ignore it. He will be forced to answer it. Now, this is a -- he is a serious guy, Mike Johnson. He is smart. He is policy oriented. The question that he's going to have is, can he lead the Republican conference with a real policy agenda while also taking care of Donald Trump, who is really not policy driven? It's a populist movement. That's the real issue. But the people in the conference who have a policy governing agenda were the ones tanking Jim Jordan. They weren't allies of him.

And so, this is where I think Johnson is going to have a really difficult challenge. He's going to have to answer the election denial question and he's going to have to prove that he's going to be a governing Republican. If he can do that, he's going to be back in the same boat where Kevin McCarthy was. I mean that's the problem, unless these guys are going it give him some slack that they would have never have given McCarthy or anyone else. I mean, I (inaudible) -- I don't know how he's going to walk this tight rope.

ALLISON: Can I just say (ph) on that? You usually don't want people to have to learn on the job to decide whether or not he's able to do that. This person has never served as a Committee Chair. We don't know and there's so much at stake in the country and the world. Johnson is going to have to learn on the job and we hope that he can get it done. And it's not going to be just to appease Donald Trump, it's can he appease the eight folks that ousted Kevin McCarthy. We are going to, in the next couple of weeks, have to negotiate and keep this government open and will he be able to do that or do we go into a forever shutdown?

BASH: Everybody standby because I want to get to Melanie Zanona, who is also here on Capitol Hill. Melanie, I know that you have been inside the chamber. You have been trying to get a sense of what is happening on the floor, some of the conversations that maybe we can see but can't hear. What's your sense of what's happening as these members gather as they prepare for this big vote?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Dana, I have now covered a couple of these votes over the past few weeks and I can tell you that the mood amongst Republicans is full of hope and optimism that they are finally going to be able to rally around a Speaker, something that they have not felt over these past three weeks of chaos and turmoil.

Speaker Designee Mike Johnson has been on the floor talking to members. Some of them are taking selfies with him. They are handing him personal written letters. Someone handed him a book that had Jesus scrawled on the front of it. And also, another sign of growing confidence that they might be able to finally select a new speaker, the Speaker Kevin McCarthy sign that had been hanging over the speaker suite for weeks was finally take down yesterday. And I also saw boxes of Kevin McCarthy's old belongings being moved out just this morning.

So, Republicans really being driven here by an overwhelming sense that they want to unify and put this very ugly chapter behind them. But I can tell you, Dana, that the wounds are still very deep inside the GOP. It's going to take awhile to heal. And they have all these other challenges that they are immediately going to have to confront, whether that's government funding or the White House request to tie Israel aid and Ukraine aid. So, we'll see how long the unity will last. But for now, Republicans are all smile on the House floor. Dana?

BASH: Melanie, thank you. And we are watching the House floor because Patrick McHenry is -- looks like he is getting ready to end this quorum call vote and begin the speaker's vote shortly. As we watch this happen, Wolf, I want to toss it back to you.

[12:50:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Dana, and once the -- they finish with this procedural quorum call vote, there will be -- they would move on to the actual vote for the next Speaker of the House and that will begin with nominating speeches. Let's talk a little bit about that, David Chalian.

We're going to hear from someone who is going to recommend that Mike Johnson is the next Speaker of the House and someone who will recommend that Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrat, is the next Speaker of the House. We have heard these speeches before.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. Hakeem Jeffries is not going to get 216 votes, if that's what the magic number is today given the absences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are all numbers recorded?

CHALIAN: But, at least...

BLITZER: Let's listen in. Let's listen in to the Acting Speaker.



REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): On this role call, 429 members have recorded their presence. The question now recurs on the election of speaker. The tellers will please come forward to take their seats once again. Thank you.

BLITZER (voice-over): David and everyone else, we're waiting for the actual nominating speeches to begin. As we await for the speeches to begin, what's going through your mind here?

CHALIAN (voice-over): Well, seeing Patrick McHenry up there, the Interim Speaker who has been overseeing this chaos for the last three weeks, it is such a reminder that he really did not want this job in the long-term. There was a lot of discussion over the last three weeks of trying to find some way to actually elevate him to the role for some temporary period of time to get the House open. And he just didn't want a part of it.

And the conference, the Republican conference made really clear, they were not interested in working with the Democrats or even considering Democratic entreaties, some way in a bipartisan fashion to open up the House. They believed this was a problem for the majority to solve and they believe they are on the cusp of solving it today for the notion of opening the House. But as we discussed earlier, solving today's issue is not solving the long term.

MCHENRY: The nominations are now in order. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from New York, Ms. Stefanik.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Mr. Speaker Pro Tempore, Madam clerk, colleagues, on behalf of the House Republican Conference, I rise today to nominate the gentleman from Louisiana, Mike Johnson, as Speaker of the People's House.


We convene this esteemed body today at a time of great crisis across America, a time of unprecedented challenges in this hallowed chamber. And a time when our most precious ally Israel's very existence is under attack from forces of evil.

Yesterday, our dear colleague, our former Conference Chair, our Chair of Energy and Commerce, Cathy McMorris Rodgers nominated Mike Johnson in our conference. And she put it best and I want to quote her today. She said, "Trust has been broken and we have come to a standstill. How do we restore trust between members, leadership, and ultimately between Congress and we the people?" Cathy went on to say, "There is a sense that it cannot be business as usual." She went on to note above the Speaker's Chair in the House chamber is our nation's motto, "In God We Trust."


Ms. McMorris Rodgers went on to say, "The times in which we are living demand boldness, unity and transformational leadership that begins with trust in God and each other.


Trust is when the magic happens. In the story of King David, we are reminded that man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart." Today is the day that House Republicans will humbly look in our hearts and elect Mike Johnson as Speaker of the People's House.


A man of deep faith, Mike epitomizes what it means to be a servant leader. A deeply respected constitutional lawyer, Mike has dedicated his life to preserving America's great principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mike is a titan on the Judiciary Committee and a dedicated member of the House Armed Services Committee. And as Vice Chair of our conference, he has united all of our members to speak clearly and boldly on behalf of the American people.

A friend to all and an enemy to none, Mike is strong, tough, and fair, and above all, Mike is kind. And at this very moment, this Republican conference knows that we live in perilous times and the American people are hurting. Families are struggling under the pain of inflation caused by reckless far-left spending, unable to afford groceries, heat or gas. We have an inhumane open border with millions illegally smuggled and trafficked, and tens of thousands of children lost in the chasm of the incompetence and negligence of the Biden Administration.

Israel is under attack by Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists committing atrocities with Israelis suffering the bloodiest days in modern memory. Crime is skyrocketing on our streets while there are vicious call from the left to defund our great men and women in blue. American energy production...


American energy production has been crushed by Joe Biden's radical failed far-left Democrat policies causing seniors, farmers and families to pay more at the pump and Americans fundamentally understand the federal government has been illegally weaponized against we the people, shredding the constitution...


...targeting conservatives, parents.


Yes, I'll say it again. The federal government has been illegally weaponized against we the people, shredding the constitution, targeting conservatives, parents, and even Joe Biden's top political opponents. The people are looking to this great chamber to save America and save America we will.


And as we embark on the path ahead, I am reminded of Galatians 6:9. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.

House Republicans and Speaker Mike Johnson will never give up. Today is the day we get this done. May God bless our next Speaker, Mike Johnson. May God bless the United States of America. And I yield back.


MCHENRY: The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Aguilar.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Speaker Pro Tempore. I noticed a little bit more of a smile on your face today than we have in the past.