For now, Democrats Protect Speaker Mike Johnson

So far, it’s been all talk and no action from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and her threat to call a vote to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

A phalanx of reporters peppered Greene with questions as she left the U.S. Capitol Tuesday about why she didn’t trigger her resolution to dump Johnson or if she had a sense of what would prompt her to act against the Speaker.

“Have you made a decision yet on when to move ahead?” hollered one scribe.

“Are your threats kind of a blank right now when you do anything with your resolution?” asked yours truly.

“How soon do you plan to make a decision,” asked another reporter. 


Greene didn’t respond in public. But she did weigh in with a statement – moments after House Democratic leaders announced they would formally protect Johnson if Greene tried to vacate the chair.

In an extraordinary move, the House Democratic leadership team of Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., declared “the time has come to turn the page on this chapter of Pro-Putin Republican obstruction. We will vote to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Motion to Vacate the Chair. If she invokes the motion, it will not succeed.” 

Greene immediately shot back at Johnson and the Democrats.

“What slimy backroom deal did Johnson make for the Democrats’ support?” Greene asked. 

The Georgia Republican went on to say that “Mike Johnson is officially the Democrat Speaker of the House.” She vowed to call a vote “because putting Congress on record allows every American to see the truth.”

Johnson wasn’t even apprised that the Democratic cavalry was coming.

“First I’ve heard of it,” quipped Johnson at a press conference when asked about the Democratic backup. 

So is there essentially a Democratic Speaker of the House now?  

“It makes no difference to me if it’s Hakeem Jeffries as Speaker or Mike Johnson right now,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. “I mean we’re passing the Democrat agenda anyway.”

I asked Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., if Johnson was now weaker, relying on Democratic votes.

“He’s already been relying on Democrat votes,” replied Roy.

That’s true. Johnson turned to Democrats to avoid multiple government shutdowns and pass the foreign aid package. Most Democrats were especially pleased that Johnson greenlighted a bundle of money for Ukraine. 

So is this great for Johnson and stability in the House?

Maybe right now. But there could be a major downside here for Johnson. 

The maneuver by Democrats could embolden the smaller coterie of Republicans who want to oust Johnson. And even some rank-and-file Republicans could see that Johnson is only in the job because of the Democrats. This might not undercut Johnson right away. But it could give those who might want his job – potentially House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio – an opportunity to use Democratic support as a wedge and perhaps challenge Johnson for Speaker next year or a leadership post in the new Congress if Republicans lose the majority. 

Let history be our guide: 

Late House Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Ill. relied on DEMOCRATS to survive a vote of no confidence in the early 20th Century. Cannon retained the Speakership. But largely with help from across the aisle.


That could be the same situation here. 

And perhaps a point in Johnson’s favor is that they eventually named a House office building after Cannon.

So, there’s that.

Prior to Democratic leaders announcing their support for Johnson, it was thought a few Democrats could simply vote to guard Johnson. The other option was that they might “take a walk.” If Democrats don’t vote, that assists Johnson, changing the math in the House necessary to remove the Speaker.

It should be noted that another Member besides the Greene could trigger the resolution to “vacate the chair” and force the House to tangle with the possibility of removing the Speaker.

Or, in a particularly audacious move, Johnson himself or an ally could trigger the resolution, confident that their forces will defeat Greene soundly. Such a scenario could embarrass Greene and likely euthanize any effort to remove the Speaker for the rest of the Congress.

So here’s what happens if Greene’s resolution is triggered:

The first vote is likely on a motion to table or kill the resolution. If the House votes to table, the gig is up. The House will have vanquished Greene’s effort. That’s where Democrats say they will help.

Democrats parsed the parliamentarily process of what they would do for Johnson. 

“None of the discussion that we had in caucus was about saving Mike Johnson,” said Aguilar. “The underlying motion to vacate was not discussed. The motion to table was.”

Aguilar alluded to Johnson’s efforts to help former President Trump win the election, despite the Electoral College results. Other Democrats have reservations about Johnson because of his evangelical faith and staunch opposition to abortion. So this is not a full-throated endorsement of Johnson. This was more about cutting off Greene

“We want to show that the emperor or the empress has not clothes,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y. “We have a group of people with no sense of responsibility to the nation. They have been empowered for too long. And this is a way to disempower them.”

I had questions for leading Democrats about their decision to throw Johnson a lifeline.

“Do Democrats seem like they have a piece of Mike Johnson now or that he’s somehow beholden to Democrats if you protect him?” I asked Katherine Clark.


“We will continue to extend our hand to Mike Johnson in bipartisanship and hope that they will continue to learn a lesson about putting the American people’s voices back on the floor of the House,” replied Clark. “We are saying no to the extremism and the chaos that Marjorie Taylor Greene continues to peddle.”

But let’s presume that the House fails to protect Johnson. If the motion to table fails, the House then immediately votes, up or down, on whether to remove Johnson. This is the actual “motion to vacate the chair.”

If the House votes in favor of removing Johnson, chaos ensues. 

The House ceases to function, much like last fall when Members removed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The House is paralyzed and cannot take any legislation action until it picks a new Speaker. An acting Speaker Pro Tempore, like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., would take over. But have little power other than to gavel the House into session and out. 

By rule, the next order of business is for the House to take names in nomination for a new Speaker. The House then votes on Speaker. In the case of last fall, it took several days before the House was even ready to consider a new Speaker. The Speakership sat vacant for 22 days.

Greene is following a very familiar path. 

In the summer of 2015, former Trump White House Chief of Staff and former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also introduced a resolution remove then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But much like Greene, Meadows never pulled the trigger, forcing a vote on the floor. 

But after an audience with Pope Francis at the Capitol and an address to a Joint Meeting of Congress, Boehner gave it all up. He wouldn’t leave immediately. The Speaker said he would first “clean the barn” of nettlesome issues like funding the government and grappling with the debt ceiling. That would give the new Speaker time to get their political sea legs. 

Barring a major domestic or international crisis, Mike Johnson has essentially “cleaned the barn” until fall. The “must do” list for Congress is rather anemic between now and September 30. That’s the next big deadline: fund the government. Again. That’s why Greene – and some who support her position – hope Johnson gets the message. 

It’s unclear if that message is loud enough right now. There are lots of unhappy Republicans. But few have the stomach to endure another tempestuous period like last autumn when the House voted out McCarthy. 

If Greene can’t gin up the support to remove Johnson, the next vote for House Speaker likely comes around 1 pm et on January 3, 2025. The 119th Congress – the new Congress – convenes at noon et under the Constitution. After a quorum call to determine who all is there, the first order of business is the election of a House Speaker. Republicans will nominate one candidate. Democrats will nominate another. However, Members – who are technically Representatives-elect at that point – can vote for anyone they want. 

And during that election, Democrats won’t protect Johnson. Either they will have the majority and elect Jeffries the next Speaker of the House. Or, if Democrats are in the minority, Democrats will vote for Jeffries and watch the donnybrook on the other side of the aisle.

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