Meet House Speaker Mike Johnson’s inner circle of Senate rebels, Trump officials and veteran aides

The Classmates

In 2016, Johnson’s election to the House was overshadowed by the election of another Republican: Donald Trump. The future speaker had to navigate a challenging political environment with a new, unpredictable president whose early-morning tweets would often dictate the day on Capitol Hill. Johnson did so alongside his fellow members of the class of 2016, and he grew close to several, including Reps. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, and Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa.

“When you come in together, your class is the closest friends that you’ll have most of the time, because you learn at the same time and at the same pace,” Ferguson said in an interview. “And this place is full of political landmines, and your class is the only group that steps on them together. Everybody else is happy to let you do it. You have to learn to trust one another for good advice.”

Ferguson, who previously served in leadership as Scalise’s chief deputy whip, conceded that Johnson has been “dealt a tough hand” with a minuscule majority and a mounting to-do list. But he said the speaker is viewed by his colleagues as “smart,” “talented” and an “honest, transparent broker.”

Another one of that 27-member GOP class of 2016 is Arrington. As Budget Committee chairman, Arrington had a high-profile falling-out with then-Speaker McCarthy. But with his friend and classmate now in the top job, the West Texas lawmaker is suddenly back in the mix.

“Mike and I share the same faith. We both have a young family back home. The western part of Louisiana that he represents — the politics, culture, the values, it’s almost identical to West Texas,” Arrington said.

During the messy October speaker impasse, Arrington, too, had considered making a bid for speaker. During a private phone call, the two shared each other’s thinking about the race. Then, they prayed together.

“I knew he was feeling what we say in the evangelical community: He was feeling ‘called.’ And I told him I had an interest too, but I said I don’t feel the calling like I hear you feeling it,” Arrington recounted. “It was clear that God just made a path for him. The timing had to be just right. You had to have gone through the other candidates. And you could just see there was momentum.”