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House Republicans try to hash out a way forward and elect a new speaker


Now, the supporters of Kevin McCarthy include our next guest, Representative Dusty Johnson, Republican from South Dakota. Welcome to the program.

DUSTY JOHNSON: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: You must have had an interesting evening. What kinds of discussions went on?

JOHNSON: Well, I do think people want to get to yes. Most people want to get to yes. But keep in mind, Steve, that we do have a few - a small number of members who - they like the chaos. People like me, we - I like order. I think we got real work to do in America. I'd like to, you know, find a resolution to this. But you've got a few who are wired differently.

INSKEEP: Well, if that is the case, that would mean that you can't negotiate with them. They're getting what they want right now. So what is your plan?

JOHNSON: Yeah. And I do think those small number of chaos-lovers that I'm talking about, you really cannot negotiate with them. But I'm hopeful there are still 218 members of the Republican conference that understand we can't do a gosh darn thing until we agree on leadership. And more than 90% of us think there's one guy who is uniquely qualified to lead the group into a really fractious time.

INSKEEP: But can you talk me through the discussions of the past - I don't know - 12, 18 hours. What are ways that people are exploring to get out of this?

JOHNSON: Well, first off, I would tell you that most of the conversations of the last 12 or 14 hours are just like the conversations the last 12 days - and for that matter, the last eight weeks. They don't bear a ton of ground. But there is incremental progress inching toward agreement. And I think that should give some people some sense of relief or some comfort that we're not at total impasse. There are people who are giving concessions. This give-and-take is slow. It's messy. But it is happening.

INSKEEP: Do you mean that there are some of the rebels here who you believe are moving over to McCarthy's side?

JOHNSON: I think they're open to doing that. Now, listen, there was not a breakthrough overnight. And there wasn't - you know, there weren't actual concessions offered. The negotiations are not that formal. But there are people who are in a position to help these deals mature, who have been talking. And things are not blowing up. People are not entirely walked away. The lines of communication are open.

INSKEEP: I want to talk about another conceivable scenario, because, of course, this is about math. You need your side to get a majority of those voting. It's conceivable the Democrats could help you if they wanted by having some of their members not vote, which would reduce the total that you would need. And McCarthy, in that situation, could conceivably get a majority. Would you like help from the Democrats?

JOHNSON: Well, I know this is a scenario that people bring out from time to time, because, of course, it's exactly what would happen in an Aaron Sorkin movie. But it is a really hard way to govern the house. I mean, when you've got a narrow majority like this, you need a coalition that has something that binds them together day to day other than just political convenience. And it is hard right now in an incredibly divided American time to put together in a bipartisan way 218 people who are willing to hang together, whether it's economic policy or border policy or any of the other huge panoply of issues that we have to face. And in that way, a bipartisan group is just - it's really hard to imagine happening.

INSKEEP: OK. And so that means you'd have to resolve it among Republicans. Would you be willing to consider a compromise candidate?

JOHNSON: Well, listen; there is no one who is even close to being able to do this job like Kevin McCarthy can do it. And I just - no one has brought forth a candidate that they think can do the job like he can. Now, listen; maybe we get to a point where somebody other than Kevin McCarthy gets elected. I don't think that's going to happen, but it's possible. But I'll tell you, the country will be messier. And the House will be more chaotic if that's what happens.

INSKEEP: One other thing - McCarthy supporters have said the critics are just objecting to object. They like chaos, as you said a moment ago. What is the principle at stake for your side?

JOHNSON: I think there's real work to get done. And that work is not going to be done easily in a narrowly divided House. And so you have to have a savvy operator. You have to have somebody who's got a passion to pull this group together so we can accomplish something. For those of us who think conservative principles have to be done, that's what's at stake.

INSKEEP: Congressman Dusty Johnson, Republican from South Dakota, it's a pleasure talking with you, sir. Thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Steve. You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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