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Greene’s ‘vacate’ push on hold amid ongoing talks with speaker

Georgia Republican said she's giving Johnson a chance to meet her demands, but won't wait forever

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., talk with reporters before a meeting with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., talk with reporters before a meeting with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene put her campaign to oust Speaker Mike Johnson on an indefinite pause Tuesday, saying she was no longer committed to forcing a vote on vacating the speaker’s office this week.

After meeting with Johnson for the second time in as many days, Greene and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said they would wait to hear how the embattled speaker responds to four “suggestions” they made on policy changes they want to see enacted.

“Right now, the ball is in Mike Johnson’s court,” Greene said on the Capitol steps alongside Massie, shortly after a roughly 90-minute meeting in the speaker’s office. “He understands that he’s got to be our Republican speaker of the House.”

The two GOP detractors were seeking several concessions from Johnson as the price for abandoning their plan to trigger a floor vote on a motion to vacate the speaker’s office.

Those demands include:

  • A commitment to oppose additional Ukraine aid.
  • Upholding the so-called Hastert rule, named for former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., that requires support from a majority of the GOP majority for Republican leaders to bring a bill to the floor.
  • A promise to enact a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut as part of stopgap funding legislation if the 12 annual appropriations bills aren’t enacted by the Sept. 30 deadline.

And Greene’s top priority, she said, was a promise to “defund” the office of special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith, who is pursuing the prosecution of former President Donald Trump on charges related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election and retaining classified documents.

The House could take up separate legislation to kill the permanent funding stream that Smith’s office draws from, such as a bill from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., but there’s little likelihood of Senate action. And including such a rider in an appropriations bill could raise germaneness problems, since the special counsel’s funding is permanently authorized.

Before the meeting Tuesday, Johnson appeared open to considering some kind of legislative restriction on the special counsel.

“We’re looking very intently on it because the problem has reached a crescendo I think,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference. “We’re looking at every possible angle on that and stay tuned.”

Massie said Johnson appeared “open to all four suggestions….The question is what is he going to do to show that he’s moving in that direction.”

Greene said she needed commitments of concrete steps before she would abandon her ouster effort. “I am so done with words,” she said. “For me, it’s all about action.”

Greene set no deadline for Johnson to respond to her demands, but made it clear her patience wasn’t infinite.

“That’s up to Mike Johnson, and it can’t drag out,” she told reporters. “These are things that have to be done.”

‘Not a negotiation’

With top Democrats pledging to vote to table the motion to vacate, Johnson had little reason to fear losing power, at least for now.

But if a vote on ousting Johnson showed a large number of backers, it could undermine his position going into leadership elections after the November ballots are cast and paint him as a “lame duck” speaker for the remainder of this session.

Johnson made clear he was not trying to reach a deal with Greene and Massie as a condition for avoiding a vote on his ouster.

“It’s not a negotiation,” Johnson said. “This is how I’ve operated as speaker. … Everybody knows I have lengthy discussions, detailed discussions on a daily basis with members across the conference.”

Greene has said that Johnson is a “Democrat speaker” and is particularly upset that Johnson brought to the floor compromise fiscal 2024 appropriations legislation and a war supplemental package that included aid for Ukraine.

But only Massie and Arizona’s Paul Gosar have publicly backed Greene’s effort, reflecting support for Johnson among most House Republicans. And most in the conference want to avoid the chaos that followed the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last fall, when it took three weeks for Republicans to rally around Johnson as their new leader.

“I do think it’s a distraction to put a lot of energy in this, when other problems are out there,” Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., said. “I would prefer we focus on the border, focus on the Israeli problem with ammunition, focus on what we can do rather than these leadership distractions.”

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., who is in a tight reelection race, said a motion to vacate is divisive.

“This type of drama right now is an unnecessary tactic,” he said. “I think she’s depreciated the value of it to zero.”

Before the meeting, Massie said he and Greene were giving Johnson “one last chance” before moving forward with their effort to boot him. If they reach a deal, Massie said they need Johnson to make a public announcement and “some down payments” to prove he would stick to his word.

And Greene made clear she wouldn’t back down from a fight with her GOP conference colleagues, even if they sought retribution against her for dividing the conference.

“I am not worried about getting kicked off committees,” she said on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “They did that to me before and I raised $3.5 million and I’ll do it again, probably even more.”

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