The Catchup: 5 major political stories this week, from the new House speaker to Trump's latest legal woes

A weekly guide from Yahoo News' Jon Ward to help you navigate the biggest stories in politics

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson
New House Speaker Mike Johnson at the Capitol on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jon Ward is a Yahoo News senior correspondent who has covered national politics for over 15 years.

You’re shifting gears to head into the weekend, so here are the top five political stories worth remembering this week — and what it all means for you.

The week of Oct. 23 saw the Republican Party finally throw up its hands and pick someone to be speaker of the House. And the Middle East continued to roil with violence, as tensions over a broader regional conflict ratcheted up.

The U.S. also saw yet another mass killing — this time in Lewiston, Maine — that left 18 dead and more than a dozen wounded. The incident quickly led to calls for stronger gun laws.

Here are the highlights from this past week, from the war in Israel to a partial resolution of the United Auto Workers strike.

House Republicans finally pick a new boss

Many of the Republicans crowding around Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana on Wednesday, for all their effusiveness, were likely feeling something like pity for the new speaker of the House.

Johnson, 51, is stepping into a role of enormous responsibility and scope, and with little experience under his belt. “He faces a terrifyingly steep learning curve and almost no margin for error,” wrote Brendan Buck, an adviser to former Speaker Paul Ryan when the Wisconsin Republican took over the speakership in 2015 following a previous revolt by hard-line House Republicans.

Mike Johnson, right, and Hakeem Jeffries
Johnson, right, receives the gavel of the Speaker by House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Oct. 25. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters) (Elizabeth Frantz / reuters)

Why it matters

  • Johnson, a dyed-in-the-wool social conservative, was in the right place at the right time. He was chosen in part because Republicans reached a point of exhaustion after three weeks of infighting that was part comedy, part tragedy. And what seemed to push him over the line was the fact that, as one fellow Republican put it, “he has the fewest enemies.”

  • Johnson has promoted Louisiana’s current abortion ban, which has penalties of 1 to 10 years in jail for medical providers. And he has advocated for banning same-sex marriage.

  • These views put Johnson well to the right of many of his Republican colleagues. That’s one thing for a congressman representing a few hundred thousand conservative voters in a Southern state. But Johnson is now a national face of the GOP.

  • Former President Trump was a factor in the speaker’s race. He was not able to push Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio into the top spot, but he did help derail the bid of another Republican, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota.

  • Johnson played a significant role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, producing and coordinating legal strategy and spreading baseless conspiracy theories.

Good reads on this

Middle East war simmers as Biden calls for a renewal of peace process

Israeli Merkava tanks
Israeli tanks take part in a military drill near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 26. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Israel continued to ramp up its military presence on the border of Gaza this week but continued to hold off on a full-scale ground invasion.

Aid continued to trickle into Gaza, and Hamas released a few hostages out of the more than 200 in captivity: two American women on Oct. 21 and two Israeli women on Oct. 23.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly weighing the consequences of a ground invasion, as well as cautions from President Biden not to overreact.

Why it matters

  • Biden on Wednesday called for a renewal of peace talks after the current conflict ends. “When this crisis is over, there has to be a vision of what comes next. And in our view, it has to be a two-state solution,” Biden said at the White House.

  • The Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry said 6,400 people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli missile strikes, after roughly 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, a Palestinian group that is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

  • Biden cast doubt on the casualty numbers coming out of Gaza. “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,” Biden said Wednesday.

Good reads on this

More Trump advisers plead guilty, cooperate with federal investigation

Jenna Ellis, center
Jenna Ellis, an attorney and prominent conservative media figure, reached a deal with prosecutors on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge over efforts to overturn Donald Trump's 2020 election loss in Georgia. (John Bazemore/Pool/AFP via Getty Images) (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

On Friday of last week, former Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents, admitting that he’d participated in the effort to illegally overturn the 2020 election. Then on Tuesday, Jenna Ellis — who aggressively promoted Trump’s lies about the election on TV and to state legislators — also pleaded guilty.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, was also said to be cooperating with the federal criminal investigation into Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election.

Why it matters

  • “I failed to do my due diligence,” Ellis said in explaining her false statements. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges.”

  • Sidney Powell, another lawyer who spoke publicly on Trump’s behalf during the effort to throw out a legal vote and keep Trump in power, pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts a day before Chesebro entered his own guilty plea.

  • Meadows was reported by CBS News to be “extensively cooperating with special counsel Jack Smith’s election interference investigation” of Trump. But CBS could not confirm an ABC News report that Meadows has received immunity in exchange for cooperation. Meadows’s attorney disputed the ABC report.

  • Trump was fined $10,000 this week by a New York judge presiding over a civil trial, after he concluded Trump made comments for the second time targeting courtroom staff.

Good reads on this

Gunman kills 18 in Maine

Lewiston, Maine, police at the site where at least 18 people were killed and 13 injured in a mass shooting
Lewiston, Maine, police at the site where at least 18 people were killed and 13 injured in a mass shooting. Eight victims who died in in Lewiston late Wednesday have been identified while 10 are still pending identification. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images) (Anadolu via Getty Images)

A massive manhunt is underway in southern Maine for a 40-year-old Army reservist who is suspected of killing 18 people in a mass shooting Wednesday night in Lewiston that injured another 13 people. Maine residents were being advised to stay inside.

The shooter, believed to be Robert Card, entered a bowling alley just before 7 p.m. Wednesday filled with members of a youth bowling league, and began shooting patrons and employees. Twelve minutes later more shootings were reported at a restaurant four miles away.

The murders quickly led to calls for stricter gun control laws from prominent Democrats, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a likely 2028 presidential candidate.

Why it matters

  • This is the 36th mass killing in the U.S. this year, according to the Associated Press and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University.

  • Card was committed to a mental health facility earlier this year for two weeks, according to a police bulletin. Card was "hearing voices" and said he wanted to "shoot up" a military training facility, according to the bulletin.

Good reads on this

Autoworker strike yields tentative agreement

Chris Pena, president of UAW Local 551
Chris Pena, president of UAW Local 551, addresses the media at the union hall located near Ford's Chicago assembly plant on Thursday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with Ford that would pay some workers 25% more than before. UAW said workers at Ford plants should return to work, but the union of 57,000 members is still striking against the two other major U.S. automakers: General Motors and Stellantis.

If the agreement is approved by union members, it could pave the way for an end to the strike at all three car companies.

Why it matters

  • When the UAW began its strike nearly six weeks ago, Ford was offering a 9% pay raise, the Associated Press reported.

  • It is the longest autoworker strike in 25 years. In 2019, the UAW ceased work at one company, General Motors, for 40 days. Wednesday marked the 41st day of the three-company strike.

Good reads on this