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Greene’s ouster attempt of Johnson is tabled

Bipartisan show of support for speaker puts effort on ice, for now

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Wednesday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House overwhelmingly voted to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempt to oust Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday night, with nearly all Republicans and most Democrats coming to Johnson’s rescue.

The final tally was 359-43, with 11 Republicans and 32 Democrats voting against the motion to table Greene’s resolution. Seven Democrats voted “present.”

Greene, R-Ga., made her long-telegraphed move against Johnson after reading a lengthy litany of complaints about his tenure in office, which began in late October, on the floor. She offered her resolution to declare the office of the speaker vacant during a break in other legislative business.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tried to dispense with the clerk’s formal reading of the resolution on the floor, which is typically done by unanimous consent. Is this case, there was an objection and the entire resolution was read out.

Then Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., a onetime speaker contender himself, offered his motion to table Greene’s resolution.

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.

Greene initially introduced the measure after the passage of the second of the two appropriations packages, leading to weeks of speculation of if and when she would make her move.

But former President Donald Trump intervened and tried to persuade Greene to back down, according to reports, leading to speculation that the situation might be defused.

It had appeared that Greene and her ally Thomas Massie, R-Ky., had put their effort on pause Tuesday, after meetings with Johnson on Monday and Tuesday in which they delivered four “requests” to the speaker. They were joined by Arizona’s Paul Gosar, the only other Republican to publicly back the effort.

The trio is asking that Johnson only bring legislation to the floor that has the support of a majority of the conference; oppose any additional Ukraine aid; defund the office of special counsel Jack Smith; and include a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut in a continuing resolution that will be needed past Sept. 30 if all fiscal 2025 appropriations bills are not passed in time.

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

Johnson, however, said he is not negotiating with Greene and her allies.

In a statement posted on his social media account after the vote Wednesday, Trump offered praise for both Greene and Johnson, but said he opposed the motion to vacate, arguing it would “negatively affect everything!”

Though only a handful of Republicans have come out against Johnson, that would have been enough if Democrats took the same approach they did in October and voted to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

But when Congress returned from its recess last week, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and his two deputies put speculation to rest by declaring they would vote to table Greene’s motion to vacate.

“At this moment, upon completion of our national security work, the time has come to turn the page on this chapter of Pro-Putin Republican obstruction,” Jeffries, Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said in their statement.

And Greene has not secured much support from her Republican colleagues; though 10 other Republicans joined her in voting against the motion to table on Wednesday, it’s not clear how many of those would actually vote to sack Johnson if Greene’s motion to vacate the office actually came to a vote.

A vast majority of the conference wants to avoid the chaos of last October, when McCarthy became the first speaker ever removed from office under a motion to vacate.

“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.”

In October, eight Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., joined with every Democrat to oust McCarthy. Gaetz moved against McCarthy after he put a “clean” stopgap spending measure on the floor.

That kicked off a three-week period in which the House was paralyzed as three different Republicans — Scalise, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., were all nominated by the conference but blocked by a group of dug-in opponents.

That paved the way for Johnson’s dark horse candidacy and out-of-nowhere ascension to the speakership.

Since then, he has negotiated with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown and fund the government for fiscal 2024, and moved additional aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Johnson’s decision to move funding for allies appears to have played a major role in Democrats’ move to protect him. The speaker had stated he needed changes to the country’s immigration and border enforcement laws to move Ukraine aid, but ended up bringing legislation to the floor without border provisions.

Since Greene’s intent became known, there have been rumblings among GOP critics that it was time for those seeking to remove Johnson — and potentially trigger more instability within their party and in Congress — to face consequences, such as removal from committees.

Greene has said that doesn’t bother her, considering Democrats did that when they were in control and it didn’t dent her political popularity. Nonetheless, talk of consequences continued up through the vote on Wednesday night.

“I think that remains to be seen,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who himself was briefly a candidate for speaker last October.

Aside from Greene, Massie and Gosar, other Republicans who voted “no” on the motion to table Wednesday night included Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona; Eric Burlison of Missouri; Warren Davidson of Ohio; Chip Roy of Texas; Alex X. Mooney of West Virginia; Barry Moore of Alabama; and Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who was coming off a tough primary win in the Hoosier state on Tuesday night.

“I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues in this misguided effort,” Johnson told reporters after the vote. “I intend the do the right thing, what I was elected to do, and I’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

“In my view, that is leadership. And that’s what’s called for in the times in which we live.”

David Lerman and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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