Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene files motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson

Published 1:16 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

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WASHINGTON — Speaker Mike Johnson is at risk of being ousted after hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a motion to vacate on Friday in the middle of a House vote on a $1.2 trillion package to keep the government open.

It’s the same political dynamic that removed the last Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, just five months ago when far-right conservatives revolted over his compromise with Democrats to prevent a federal shutdown. But this one faces steeper odds with less GOP support.

The House is scheduled to leave town for a two-week spring recess at the end of Friday’s session, and it’s doubtful any vote on removing Johnson, of Louisiana, would be imminent.

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“Speaker Johnson always listens to the concerns of members but is focused on governing,” spokesman Raj Shah said. “He will continue to push conservative legislation that secures our border, strengthens our national defense and demonstrates how we’ll grow our majority.”

Under the rules, any member can make the motion privileged, which would require leaders to schedule a vote within two legislative days. But it can also simply sit until lawmakers return next month.

Greene, of Georgia, said she was issuing a “warning” to Johnson but did not indicate a timetable for her next move.

“We’ve started the clock to start the process to elect a new speaker,” she said on the Capitol steps.

Yet even the threat of removal, the ultimate punishment for a speaker, will hang over Johnson’s young speakership, just months on the job — particularly as he turns next to passing funding to support Ukraine that far-right Republicans oppose.

No speaker had been removed this way until McCarthy’s dramatic ouster last fall, a swift, stunning and chaotic episode that essentially shuttered the House chamber for weeks as Republicans searched for a new speaker.

Greene is a leading ally of the Republicans’ presumed 2024 presidential nominee, former president Donald Trump, and McCarthy, of California, was toppled by a similar contingent of far-right Republicans led at the time by Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

The Georgia congresswoman spoke vehemently against House passage of the government funding bill, and she has warned she would try to remove the speaker if he pushes ahead with a package to support Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

Johnson has refused to put a $95 billion Senate-passed national security package with Ukraine funds to a House vote, but nevertheless he promised to fund Ukraine as the a next priority. The removal threat against him now puts any votes to help Ukraine in potential jeopardy.

With the most narrow majority in modern times, Johnson has a weak grasp on his Republicans in the House. He can risk only a few defectors on any vote, meaning he could be easily ousted, unless Democrats jump in with their votes to protect him.

Still, many Republicans in Congress were embarrassed by McCarthy’s removal as speaker, which exposed deep party divisions and infighting that left their new majority, in office since January, unable to fully function on priorities.

The night before Friday’s voting, Gaetz warned against trying to oust Johnson, saying that Republican lawmakers fed up with the process would cross the aisle and vote for the Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

“If we vacated this speaker, we’d end up with a Democrat,” Gaetz predicted late Thursday. “When I vacated the last one, I made a promise to the country that we would not end up with a Democrat speaker. … I couldn’t make that promise again today.”

The idea of a Republican House majority casting votes to make a Democrat the House speaker would be an unheard of political situation.

But with Republicans at war among themselves it is also one that could potentially transpire as they try to return Congress to a sense of normalcy.