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Johnson Survives Greene’s Ouster Attempt as Democrats Join GOP to Kill It

Johnson Survives Greene’s Ouster Attempt as Democrats Join GOP to Kill It

WASHINGTON — Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday easily batted down an attempt by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to oust him from his post, after Democrats linked arms with most Republicans to fend off a second attempt by GOP hard-liners to strip the gavel from their party leader.

The vote to kill the effort was an overwhelming 359-43, with seven voting “present.” Democrats flocked to Johnson’s rescue, with all but 39 of them voting with Republicans to block the effort to oust him.

Members of the minority party in the House have never propped up the other party’s speaker, and when the last Republican to hold the post, Kevin McCarthy, faced a removal vote last fall, Democrats voted en masse to allow the motion to move forward and then to jettison him, helping lead to his historic ouster.

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This time, the Democratic support made the critical difference, allowing Johnson, who has a minuscule majority, to avoid a removal vote altogether. While for weeks Greene had appeared to be on a political island in her drive to get rid of yet another GOP speaker, 11 Republicans ultimately voted to allow her motion to move forward.

That was the same number of Republicans who voted in October to allow the bid to remove McCarthy to advance — but back then, they were joined by every Democrat.

“I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues to defeat this misguided effort,” Johnson told reporters shortly after Wednesday’s vote. “As I’ve said from the beginning and I’ve made clear here every day, I intend to do my job. I intend to do what I believe to be the right thing, which is what I was elected to do, and I’ll let the chips fall where they may. In my view, that is leadership.”

“Hopefully,” he added, “this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined the 118th Congress.”

The lopsided vote solidified the dynamic that has defined Johnson’s speakership, like McCarthy’s before him: Each time the Republican leader has been faced with a critical task, such as averting a government shutdown or a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt, he has relied on a bipartisan coalition of mainstream lawmakers to steer around far-right opposition and provide the votes to accomplish it.

The result has been the empowerment of Democrats at the expense of the hard right, the very phenomenon that Greene raged against as she rose on the House floor Wednesday — drawing boos from some of her colleagues — to lay out a scathing case against Johnson and what she called the “uniparty” he empowered.

“Our decision to stop Marjorie Taylor Greene from plunging the House of Representatives and the country into further chaos is rooted in our commitment to solve problems for everyday Americans in a bipartisan manner,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, told reporters shortly after the vote. “We will continue to govern in a reasonable, responsible and results-oriented fashion, and put people over politics all day and every day.”

Greene’s move to oust Johnson came roughly three weeks after the speaker pushed through a long-stalled $95 billion national security spending package to aid Israel, Ukraine and other U.S. allies over the objections of Greene and other right-wing Republicans who staunchly opposed sending additional aid to Ukraine.

Lawmakers loudly jeered Greene as she called up the resolution and read it aloud. As she recited the measure, a screed that lasted more than 10 minutes, Republicans lined up on the House floor to shake Johnson’s hand and pat him on the back.

“Given a choice between advancing Republican priorities or allying with Democrats to preserve his own personal power, Johnson regularly chooses to ally himself with Democrats,” Greene said, reading from her resolution.

She concluded with the official call for his removal: “Now, therefore be it resolved that the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives is hereby declared to be vacant.”

It marked the second time in less than a year that Republicans have sought to depose their own speaker, coming about seven months after GOP rebels succeeded, with Democratic support, in removing McCarthy.

Earlier in the week, Greene had seemed to hesitate over whether she would actually call the ouster vote. For two consecutive days, she met for hours with Johnson, flanked by her chief ally, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and floated a list of demands in exchange for not calling the vote.

Among the demands were cutting off all future U.S. aid to Ukraine, defunding the Justice Department and imposing a 1% across the board cut on all spending bills if lawmakers are unable to negotiate a deal to fund the government in September.

But Johnson had remained cool to their entreaties, and told reporters that he was not negotiating with Greene and Massie.

That put Greene, whose combative political brand is premised on her unrelenting appetite to fight with the establishment of her party, out on a limb. She had little choice but to call up a vote she knew would fail, but had been threatening for weeks. Even after Jeffries made it clear that Democrats would vote to block any ouster attempt, she was still determined to undermine Johnson publicly and force Democrats to bail him out.

“This is exactly what the American people needed to see,” she told reporters on the House steps after the vote. “I didn’t run for Congress to come up here and join the uniparty, and the uniparty was on full display today.”

“The Democrats now control Speaker Johnson,” she added.

Just 32 Democrats voted to allow Greene’s motion to move forward, while another seven voted “present,” registering no position.

Greene initially filed the motion against Johnson in late March, just as lawmakers were voting on a $1.2 trillion spending bill he pushed through the House over the opposition of the majority of Republicans. She called the move a “betrayal” and said she wanted to send the speaker a “warning,” then left the threat dangling for weeks.

Johnson plowed ahead anyway, putting together an aid package for Ukraine — a move Greene previously said was a red line that would prompt her to seek his ouster, but which did not lead her to immediately make good on her threat.

“I’m actually going to let my colleagues go home and hear from their constituents,” Greene said following the vote, predicting that Republicans would join her bid to get rid of Johnson after getting an earful from voters irate about the foreign aid bill. Instead, many of them heard just the opposite and returned to Washington voicing skepticism about removing Johnson.

If she had been successful Wednesday, Greene would have prompted only the second vote on the House floor in more than 100 years on whether to oust the speaker. When Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida instigated McCarthy’s removal in October, such a spectacle had not been seen in the chamber since 1910.

But this time, Greene had a more difficult time finding support for removing the speaker. House Republicans were wary of throwing the chamber into another period of chaos like the one that paralyzed the House for weeks after McCarthy’s ouster, and have privately seethed about the public disarray Greene’s threat has sown.

Even ultraconservatives like Gaetz expressed uneasiness with firing another speaker, suggesting that the move risked handing over control of the House to Democrats given Republicans’ rapidly narrowing margin of control.

Former President Donald Trump also came to Johnson’s defense, urging Republicans on social media minutes after the vote to kill Greene’s effort, arguing that polling showed Republicans doing well in the November elections, and that a show of division would undermine the party.

“If we show DISUNITY, which will be portrayed as CHAOS, it will negatively affect everything!” he wrote.

He called Johnson “a good man who is trying very hard,” but did not slam the door altogether on the idea of removing him.

“We’re not in a position” to do so now, with such a small Republican majority in the House, Trump wrote. “At some point, we may very well be, but this is not the time.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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