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History gavels in


WORLD Radio - History gavels in

On the ground in Washington D.C. for the election of Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana as speaker of the House

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of N.Y., hands the gavel to speaker-elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., at the Capitol in Washington. Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 26th day of October, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. First up: covering the conclusion of the speaker race.

Earlier this week, the 118th Congress set the record for the third longest period of time out of session while trying to elect a new speaker over 22 days. Now the wait is over and Mike Johnson of Louisiana is wielding the gavel.

MIKE JOHNSON: To my colleagues, I wanna thank you all for the trust that you have instilled in me to lead us in this historic and unprecedented moment that we're in. The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down.

BROWN: Joining us now to talk about covering the story is our Washington Bureau reporter, Leo Briceno. Good morning, Leo.

LEO BRICENO: Good morning.

BROWN: Alright, fill us in on how you and Carolina Lumetta have been covering this story. I mean, unlike the rest of us, you had the chance to close your computer and go find out in person. What does that look like?

BRICENO: Yeah, it's been a lot of discovering that sometimes we think that Congress has all the answers and that we as reporters have to go out and try to find those answers. Well, it became very apparent in these last few weeks that we didn't have the answers, but neither did they. So it was a little bit of a scramble to figure out where people fell on the various candidates as the struggle for Speaker kind of unfolded. And just following that deliberation process has evolved over that time.

BROWN: I’d imagine you had some memorable encounters with legislators in the hallways…any examples you’d care to share?

BRICENO: Quite a few, I mean, definitely moments of exasperation. On Tuesday evening, a lot of kind of sarcastic comments made about where the process was, a couple, a couple of representatives off the record called it a clown show. A couple, you know, representatives on the record said they were just very sad, very dismayed that it was taking Republicans so long to work through this process. But whether it was a snarky remark in the hallway, or whether that was an on the record statement about what they thought a candidate would or wouldn't be able to do, it was just very apparent that the frustration was leaking out of an otherwise very buttoned up chamber, right? You usually see these very composed politicians who have speaking points, who know exactly what they want to say. And in some instances, you could see that starting to crack just a little bit. That was surprising. That was something that I'm definitely going to take away from from this, this these past few weeks.

BROWN: So you talk about the emotion and the frustration that was sort of leaking out from the lawmakers. What about the press corps? What did you see in terms of behavior and how they express themselves?

BRICENO: Yeah, well, I think it was a little bit of a shared experience. You know, we come from different publications. There's the Washington Post, there's the New York Times, there's, you know, I mean, you name it, and they're there, right? But all of us were kind of bonded together in this marathon of an experience. And there's a lot of camaraderie and a lot of shared help whenever a legislator comes out of that closed door session, right? Because a lot of this is happening behind closed doors, right. But whenever somebody came out, and it'd be a scrum, and we'd ask, you know, what was the tally, what was the vote, and sometimes a legislator would, would help us out and say, These are the people who are for and against. And at other times, they wouldn't say anything. But it was really a shared effort by everyone in the hallway to kind of figure out what was going on, and just kind of adding pieces of information together as the day unfolded, but a long experience that I think would have been very difficult for any reporter on our own. But thankfully, we did have a bit of a community there.

BROWN: You’ve been spending a lot of time in the Capitol…of course, you have to eat….and that means you’ve had meals alongside lawmakers and staffers. What’s the “breaking bread” experience been like?

BRICENO: Yeah, it was unexpected. It was irregular. Sometimes you had to find pockets of time where you could get away from the action in order to sneak in a meal. But that wasn't always so obvious, because it's not exactly like these lawmakers had a rigorous schedule they were sticking to and if they did have one, they certainly didn't share it with us. So it was a little bit irregular. Yeah, I think on Capitol Hill, it's always an interesting experience, when you're just going about your everyday work, and you happen to run into somebody who's been on national TV, you know, maybe in that very same room, on the TV in the corner. And so at one point on Monday, I was in a team meeting with the Washington bureau and Representative Nancy Mace came in and sat down two tables away from me, and it's always a little bit of a question as a reporter, do I use this opportunity to interact with them, maybe ask them a question about what's going on or, you know, let them enjoy their lunch? And I think in this case, Representative Mace recognized I had my press badge on it; didn't really look like she wanted to be talked with at the moment. So I just let her enjoy her burger and fries at that time. But yeah, it's small things like that, you know, you that kind of bring you back to where you are and the moment you're in.

BROWN: Leo, was there a particular moment in the runup to Johnson getting elected speaker that everyone just knew this was going to be different from previous votes?

BRICENO: Yeah, I think for me that point came Tuesday evening. The last guy who was nominated before Johnson, Emmer, he didn't have the votes, he didn't have them by 26 votes. So that's the largest opposition any candidate had had to face since McCarthy was ousted. So the conference just knew, this isn't our guy. And yeah, less than an hour later, or I think it was maybe a couple hours later, he dropped out. And so when your nominee drops out just hours after being nominated, that's a bad look, right? But that was different when Johnson came out of the room. And when reports started coming out that not a single person had voted against him in conference that was huge. That was really a turning point. And a lot of the people that we talked to and asked like, hey, what changed? What was the mood like in there? They pointed to that kind of realization that, you know, once some of these other candidates had been removed, it really became apparent the room was behind Johnson in a way that they hadn't been for anyone else. And so that was a massive turning point there on Tuesday evening.

BROWN: Before we started recording, Leo, you mentioned that you're grateful to be in DC reporting on this story. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

BRICENO: Sure. This is a historic moment for the position of Speaker and for the US House of Representatives. I think on a procedural level, right, this has never happened before. A Speaker has never been removed through a motion to vacate as McCarthy was a little under a month ago. And no speaker has been reimplemented as a result of a motion to vacate - like Johnson has been now. But I think on maybe a more personal note, I'm just really thankful that I got to be here to witness that. And I think part of that, in no small way goes to the listeners into the supporters of WORLD who make it possible for us to have an office here, who make it possible for us to cover the stories that are playing out in our nation's capital. And so for me, it's both the recognition that this is historically politically significant, but also personally, an amazing experience that I'm gonna take with me for the rest of my life.

BROWN: Very good. Yeah. We're thankful for your presence there, and we're thankful for our supporters making it happen. Leo Briceno is our Washington Bureau reporter. Thanks so much, Leo.

BRICENO: Thank you, Myrna.

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