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Stage set for a vote against House speaker

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene announces a plan to advance a motion to vacate

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., joined by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Stage set for a vote against House speaker

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., might soon receive support from more members of Congress than any speaker in modern history. And that might sink his odds of staying in the role long-term.

On Wednesday morning, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., announced plans to force a vote to remove Johnson as speaker through a procedural maneuver called a motion to vacate the chair. Once the motion is activated, the House must vote on it within two legislative days. It would take a simple majority to succeed.

“I just want to urge all our colleagues to prepare for it,” Greene said. “It’s the right thing to do for America. It’s time to clean House and get our conference in order. Americans gave Republicans the House in 2022. But what have we done with it? What are we giving Republican voters to vote for? Mike Johnson, once he became speaker, has become a man that none of us recognize.”

For the better part of an hour, Greene and Massie laid out their case against Johnson, arguing that he had failed to secure conservative gains in key policy areas such as border security, government spending, and foreign aid, leaving them no choice but to ask him to step aside. Most recently, Johnson’s support of a foreign aid package that didn’t contain longstanding GOP demands for increased border security sparked anger among the most conservative lawmakers in the chamber.

The pair indicated they would start the clock on their motion at the beginning of next week.

The measure faces steep odds against an unusual alliance that has emerged over the past week between Democratic leaders and Johnson. Greene and Massie’s attack highlights strong undercurrents reshaping the role of speaker in a closely divided House—tides of change that may continue after November’s election.

Amid a slim two-seat GOP majority in the House, Greene’s motion would need support from nearly every single Republican to pass. Last fall, a resolution to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy passed because House Democrats joined a small group of Republicans to vote for the motion to vacate. If Democrats repeated that vote, it would only take three Republicans to ensure Johnson’s demise.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., urged Democrats to defend Johnson earlier this week.

“We will vote to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to vacate the chair. If she invokes the motion, it will not succeed,” Jeffries said in a statement.

With the support of 212 Democrats and likely the vast majority of the 217 Republicans, Johnson could, in theory, have over 400 votes backing his speakership next week—a tally that would dwarf the support for any speaker in the House’s history. But Massie isn’t sure that the lines will be so neatly drawn.

“I’m not going to concede that the vote will fail,” Massie said. “I mean I think that [Jeffries] had to step out and get in front of this freight train; he was afraid to have enough Democrats who would save Mike Johnson. The question is: Will there be enough Democrats to overcome the Republicans who come to their senses this weekend?”

Greene urged Johnson to walk away from any Democratic help.

“He should reject the endorsement of Hakeem Jeffries and the entire Democratic leadership team,” Greene said. “That is not an endorsement any Republican speaker should ever want or embrace.”

Greene said that even if her motion fails, enough Republicans will balk at the prospect of a Democratic-supported speaker that they will unseat Johnson from leadership in the next Congress, which is set to begin in January.

Jim Curry, director of graduate studies in the University of Utah’s political science department, said that in the past, House majorities rarely threatened their own speakers. But under the current circumstances, he thinks it was only a matter of time.

Since Republicans removed McCarthy last October over similar disagreements, Curry has expected something like this to happen again simply because Republicans have not adjusted their expectations in light of the realities of a slim House majority and Democratic control of the Senate and White House.

“Mike Johnson—just as any speaker of the House would have had to—had no choice in the long haul but to eventually advance a bipartisan deal that was going to have a ton of Democratic backing and that was going to anger Republican hardliners,” Curry said. “And this isn’t new. We’ve seen this a lot in recent years in Washington.”

I asked Massie if he wanted leadership changes beyond the speaker role. Massie said that would depend on whether other House GOP leaders supported Johnson’s ouster.

“They need to have the sensibility to go to Mike Johnson,” Massie said. “I think they have a chance to show us whether they’re capable of leading or not, right now in this moment.”

Curry noted the difficulty of leading such a small majority: Johnson has the burden of being the central mouthpiece of the party and the key legislator tasked with ironing out policy disagreements.

“The speakership has become this party-messaging post—a partisan electoral post as much as it is an institutional post. [That’s] made it a miserable post for the past decade,” Curry said, noting similar struggles that ended the speakerships of Reps. John Boehner and Paul Ryan, the speakers from 2011 to 2015 and 2015 to 2019, respectively.

“If I’m Steve Scalise, I’m very worried,” Curry said, referring to the Republican majority leader, the party’s No. 2 role. “I’m not overjoyed that there’s chaos in my party but also willing to take advantage of it. But deep down I’d know I’m going to face the same problem.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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