18 April 2024

A New Speaker’s Many Faces Present All the pieces however Approval

Presiding over his first State of the Union deal with as speaker of the Home, Mike Johnson sat at heart stage, simply over President Biden’s left shoulder, with one of many worst poker faces in American politics.

His eyebrows arched and fell. He pursed his lips. He couldn’t determine whether or not he ought to rise up, smile or frown.

He smirked. He corrected himself. He type of rolled his eyes. He appeared down. He sighed. He shook his head. He swallowed. He smiled once more. He appeared amused and affected person when he clearly meant to look critical and never happy in any respect.

To be honest, one other performer had appeared to overlook his personal cue first.

As is customary, Mr. Johnson banged the gavel when Mr. Biden stepped as much as the podium. And when Mr. Biden started, “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Johnson briefly leaned ahead, as if anticipating Mr. Biden to provide him the chance to ship the ceremonial introduction of the president.

As a substitute, Mr. Biden launched proper into his speech, and Mr. Johnson nodded politely and took his seat.

He then had the excessive privilege and distinct honor of attempting to manage his boyish facial expressions for greater than 70 minutes on nationwide tv.

“I’m afraid he might have practiced it in entrance of a mirror,” mentioned the presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Mr. Johnson had urged his fellow Republicans, forward of the speech, to respect the decorum of the occasion, and to chorus from the disruptions which have change into commonplace in recent times. He roughly succeeded at preserving his social gathering beneath management.

However his personal brows, lips and eyes have been one other matter.

A part of Mr. Johnson’s problem was one in every of distinction. Seated to his proper, Vice President Kamala Harris managed to look each relaxed and disciplined, her face at all times on message.

So long as there have been cameras educated on presidents, Home audio system have been extra than simply State of the Union surroundings. They’re usually silent characters — notably after they belong to the president’s opposition.

Paul Ryan joked that he practiced his personal poker face for former President Barack Obama’s remaining State of the Union, Mr. Ryan’s first as speaker.

Nancy Pelosi was a foil for former President Donald J. Trump, alternating a sarcastic clap with an unflinching scowl. On the finish of Mr. Trump’s 2020 deal with, she calmly stood up and tore his printed remarks in half, like a dissatisfied buyer rejecting a invoice.

And Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., in 1984, could be seen over Ronald Reagan’s left shoulder, leaning backward, rolling his papers into a good tube, which he put down solely to applaud.

Mr. Johnson didn’t contact the papers in entrance of him, and whereas he typically nodded in approval, he appeared to applaud Mr. Biden solely sparingly — most notably, after Mr. Biden mentioned no American troopers could be on the bottom in Ukraine, and when Mr. Biden quoted Reagan.

Whereas Ms. Harris rose continuously to hitch standing ovations by her fellow Democrats, Mr. Johnson received no such train.

Nonetheless, on the finish of the speech, Mr. Johnson each applauded and rose to his toes, shook the president’s hand, buttoned his swimsuit jacket, and — as Mr. Biden lingered within the nicely of the Home chamber — appeared very able to go dwelling.