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Johnson backpedals on plans to endorse Rosendale after GOP blowback

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Speaker Mike Johnson rapidly reversed plans to endorse Rep. Matt Rosendale in Montana’s critical Senate race after receiving heavy blowback from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Rosendale, a top leadership antagonist, is preparing to launch his campaign against veteran Tim Sheehy in the competitive race against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — one of the GOP’s best pickup opportunities. Johnson had planned to boost Rosendale in the primary, a move directly at odds with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are backing Sheehy.

But “upon reflection, the speaker withdrew his endorsement largely based on the reality that Rosendale is the weaker candidate by far against Tester,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).

Johnson informed a Republican senator about his decision to not follow through with the planned endorsement, according to a person familiar with the matter. Endorsing Rosendale also could have raised the ire of former President Donald Trump, whom the congressman famously snubbed on the House floor when Trump sought to speak to him on the telephone during the speakership race more than a year ago.

A Johnson adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the speaker was sympathetic to Rosendale and had considered a possible endorsement. But after reflecting on it with his political team and others, he decided sending a contribution was most appropriate.

“The Speaker has committed to sending a check from his leadership PAC to Congressman Rosendale, as he has for other House colleagues and friends, but he has not made any endorsements in Senate races. He is singularly focused on growing the House majority,” Greg Steele, Johnson’s communications director, said in a statement.

Rosendale voted for an emergency Israel aid bill this week that did not have spending cuts or offsets, a move that boosted the embattled speaker but is out of character with Rosendale’s budget-cutting persona. Some Republicans privately expressed concerns that Rosendale’s vote for the legislation could be viewed as a trade for Johnson’s endorsement, according to a second person familiar with the private conversations.

The speaker’s plans to endorse Rosendale were first reported by Punchbowl News. Johnson’s reversal was first reported by POLITICO.

Rosendale did not immediately respond to a request for comment.