Fight over Johnson’s fate heats to a boil as Democrats vow unprecedented rescue

The simmering debate over the fate of Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) reached a rolling boil on Tuesday when top Democrats vowed to shield the embattled GOP leader from a conservative coup — and immediately prompted the coup’s ringleader to pledge a vote to boot him from power.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who’s been sitting on her motion to vacate resolution for more than a month, said the Democrats’ promised rescue mission was the last straw in a long list of grievances she’s compiled against the Speaker since he won the gavel in October. In a scorching statement, she accused Johnson of cutting “slimy” deals with Democrats, urged him to switch parties and vowed to force the full House to vote on his removal.

“If the Democrats want to elect him Speaker (and some Republicans want to support the Democrats’ chosen Speaker), I’ll give them the chance to do it,” she posted on the social platform X.

“I’m a big believer in recorded votes because putting Congress on record allows every American to see the truth and provides transparency to our votes,” Greene continued. “Americans deserve to see the Uniparty on full display. I’m about to give them their coming out party!”

But Greene is keeping her cards close to her chest, refusing to say as of press time when she plans to force her resolution to the floor.

Greene declined to speak with reporters Tuesday when entering the House chamber — “I have to go vote” — then marched into the parliamentarian’s office afterwards alongside Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a co-sponsor of the motion to vacate.

“Plans are still developing,” she told reporters on her way out of the Capitol.

The Georgia Republican has scheduled a press conference for 9 a.m. Wednesday, where she intends to detail her plan.

Greene’s fiery threat came less than an hour after the top three House Democrats — Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.) and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (Calif.) — issued an unprompted statement announcing their intent to protect Johnson from Greene’s effort to remove his gavel. The plan is not to have Democrats vote for Johnson’s Speakership directly, but to support a proposal to table Greene’s resolution — a procedural move preventing it from ever reaching the floor.

“There is a distinction there,” Aguilar told reporters.

The strategy was not quite a surprise: A number of rank-and-file Democrats had pledged to help Johnson remain in power if he ensured passage of key legislation, including aid for Ukraine, and Democratic leaders said nothing publicly to discourage that unusual offer.

Still, for the minority party to swoop in to keep a majority leader in power is unprecedented, and it highlights the extraordinary difficulties facing GOP leaders as they try to manage their hard-line critics with a hairline majority and steer legislation to President Biden’s desk.

A number of Democrats said they simply wanted to reward Johnson for responsible governance and bring some stability to the volatile lower chamber.

“It would be wrong to have Marjorie Taylor Greene drag him down into the gutter and drown him down there,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said. “We’re not going to allow that.”

Still, Democrats rarely see eye to eye with Johnson, a staunch conservative and devout evangelical. And those frictions escalated in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when the news emerged that Johnson, a former constitutional lawyer, had devised the legal reasoning behind the GOP effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Democrats discussed that track record during a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday morning, where party leaders announced their plan to help Johnson survive a revolt.

“People talked about how he was the architect of the ‘Big Steal’ denial and the legal challenge there. So he did not come to this with clean hands,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said. “However, I think most members appreciate that we’re back in operative mode here, and we’re actually doing some things that are very, very important.”

Others were much more passionate in their criticisms.

“He’s dangerous, he’s an election denier, he’s a fundamentalist, and he’s not the leadership this country needs,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said.

For many Democrats, however, rescuing Johnson is preferable to allowing Greene to shut down the House, as a different group of conservatives had done in ousting former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in October.

“It’s not lost on me, the role that Mike Johnson played in the lead-up to Jan. 6,” said Aguilar, who sat on the Jan. 6 investigative committee. “However, we want to turn the page. We don’t want to turn the clock back and let Marjorie Taylor Greene dictate the schedule and the calendar of what’s ahead.”

The prospect that Democrats would keep Johnson in power sparked immediate questions about the impact on the Speaker’s standing in a GOP conference where conservatives are already furious at him for cutting bipartisan deals on big-ticket legislation.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said a Democratic rescue mission would only “intensify” Johnson’s image problem among many Republican voters, who might come to believe he doesn’t fight hard enough for conservative priorities. But the change would be “in degree,” he added, “not in kind.”

“Speaker Johnson, a person for whom I have warm feelings, has formed a habit of passing legislation for Democrats. And he’s done it repeatedly,” Bishop said.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), another frequent leadership critic, offered a similar assessment of the potential fallout.

“We’ve been passing bills with Democrat votes all year anyways,” Roy said. “I’m not sure what difference it makes.”

Johnson, for his part, brushed off concerns about serving as a Speaker propped up by Democrats, describing his job as one that leads the entire House and not just the GOP conference.

“I am a conservative Republican — a lifelong conservative Republican. That’s what my philosophy is, that’s what my record is, and we’ll continue to govern on those principles,” Johnson said Tuesday.

“We shouldn’t be playing politics and engaging in the chaos that looks like palace intrigue here.”

The Democratic statement opposing Johnson’s ouster was just the latest blow to Greene’s vacate effort, which has failed to gain traction among Republicans.

A number of hard-line conservatives have said that, with elections quickly approaching, they simply don’t want to plunge the conference into a state of chaos.

“The sentiment is, and I’m taking this viewpoint, it’s not the right time to do this,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said.

“Mike Johnson, saying all that, is a good man. He’s doing, in his mind, what he thinks is right,” Norman added. “Did he draw the red line with Biden? No. Did he take the Schumer-Pelosi-McConnell bill? Yes. But it is what it is.”

Making matters worse for Greene, former President Trump — of whom Greene considers herself a close ally — has sided with Johnson over the Georgia Republican.

“I stand with the Speaker, we’ve had a very good relationship,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Johnson at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.

Michael Whatley, chair of the Republican National Committee, spoke to Republicans during their closed-door conference meeting Tuesday and delivered a message Trump passed along to him the night before: stay unified.

“We can only win through unity,” Whatley told lawmakers of Trump’s message, according to a House Republican at the meeting.

That waning support for Greene and her own waffling have led some to believe she was backing away from her ouster threat. Greene declined to force a vote on removing the Speaker after the House approved Ukraine aid — which she staunchly opposed — and she skipped votes on Monday, allowing her to evade questions from reporters.

Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of GOP leadership, said Monday, “I don’t think it’s gonna come up.” And the House Republican who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic described Greene on Tuesday morning as having “cold feet.”

But the tides turned after the top Democrats issued their statement, prompting Greene’s vow to force a vote on the resolution.

Now, some Republicans are aiming their fire at the GOP lawmaker — and at least one is accusing her of hypocrisy.

“To remove Mike Johnson would require Marjorie Taylor Greene teaming up with Democrats. So it’s kind of ironic for her to sit here on the one hand and decry the uniparty and say, ‘Oh, Democrats are gonna save Mike Johnson,’” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said. “She would need Democrats to remove Mike Johnson. So it’s a bunch of nonsense, frankly, what she’s talking about.”

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