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Are Mike Johnson’s Days as House Speaker Numbered?

The House may soon find itself in yet another battle for the gavel.

by | Mar 23, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) did it again. For the second time this month, he managed to negotiate a full-year funding package that cleared both chambers of Congress just in time to avoid government shutdown. But he did it with more help from Democrats than his fellow Republicans – and as his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), discovered not so long ago, that comes with a hefty price tag. As the lower chamber gears up for yet another battle for the gavel, it seems Mike Johnson’s days as House speaker may be numbered.

Who Wants to Be House Speaker?

In October of last year, Liberty Nation Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner wrote: “Friends don’t let friends run for Speaker of the House.” Despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of this warning, the position has been, as Mr. Donner poetically put it, “a vale of tears” for the last five Republicans to hold it. Perhaps now we can add Mr. Johnson as the sixth.

Friday, March 22 – which some might recognize as the deadline for the second half of this year’s annual spending bills – was the day that may have marked the beginning of the end. It was the day that the House voted on a $1.2 trillion package to get the government through September. House Republicans generally demand 72 hours to read any bill, but Johnson, in coordination with Democrats in both the House and the Senate, set aside that rule to rush the legislation through.

Eschewing the 72-hour rule, crossing the aisle to do so over conservative protests, and the exorbitant nature of the spending package itself formed the trifecta of temerity that could cost Johnson the gavel. That it wasn’t the first time he negotiated a bipartisan bill over the protests of a large contingent of his own party made it the final straw for some. The spending package passed 286-134 with a dozen representatives not voting – at first glance, a bipartisan win. But, as the late Herman Cain was wont to say, the devil is in the details. Just 101 Republicans supported the bill to 185 Democrats. And while only 22 Democrats opposed, 112 Republicans did. When more than half the voting GOP lawmakers reject a package championed by a House speaker from within their own party, there’s trouble on the horizon.

Before the vote on the spending package was complete, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) moved to oust Johnson as House speaker. “Today I filed a motion to vacate after Speaker Johnson has betrayed our confidence and broken our rules,” Greene told reporters after the session. “I respect our conference, I paid all my dues to my conference, I’m a member in good standing and I do not wish to inflict pain on our conference and to throw the House in chaos, but this is basically a warning and it’s time for us to go through the process, take our time, and find a new Speaker of the House that will stand with Republicans in our Republican majority instead of standing with the Democrats.”

What’s Next for Mike Johnson? What’s Next for the House?

Under the current rules of the House, a single member from either party can make a “motion to vacate the chair.” This sparks a vote to remove the speaker through a privileged resolution. Last year, Republicans used the process to – for the first time in the chamber’s history – successfully remove a sitting House speaker. Then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy had done much the same as Johnson, working with Democrats to pass several bills, most notably including government funding packages to avoid partial shutdowns. Conservative members fed up with the vicious cycle of unbridled borrowing and spending had tried to hold government funding hostage to force a balanced budget. McCarthy’s side-stepping of their protest may have kept the wheels turning, but it also alienated him from many in his own party and cost him the speakership.

New Banner Political Power PlaysNow, it seems Johnson may follow in his footsteps in more ways than one.

Or will he? When the McCarthy ouster came to a vote, Democrats stood united to remove the speaker and all but eight Republicans voted to keep him. Thanks to the GOP’s slim majority, those eight rebels were enough to seal the California lawmaker’s fate. But Johnson seems to enjoy a bit more support.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a fellow Republican from Louisiana, was confident Johnson would not get the boot, and he called for the GOP to stand together. “We have to unite if we are going to get things done, we have proven with bills like our energy bill, our border security bill and some other big things we have done we can come together and get things done for hard working families,” he told reporters. Johnson can probably count on the majority of his own party to back him, but what he really needs is the support of enough Democrats to offset the handful of Republicans who would remove him from power – and they’ve signaled that they’re willing to provide that support.

“If he does the responsible thing which is allowing members of Congress to vote on a bill that will pass and is in our national security interests and then subsequent to that a nonserious actor who does not want to govern brings a motion to vacate, yes, I would motion to table in that circumstance,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) said Friday. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from New York, said he’d vote to keep Johnson as House speaker “because it’s absurd he’s being kicked out for doing the right thing, keeping the government open.”

Should the vote turn disastrous for Johnson, however, it would likely throw the House into chaos once again. It took 15 rounds of voting over several days for Kevin McCarthy to finally grasp the gavel. Then it was another 22 days before the GOP settled on Mike Johnson as the replacement. With the Republican majority now even tighter than before, how long will the legislative logjam last this time?

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