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Johnson Won’t Raise the Bar to Oust a Speaker – And It May Save Him

Much like McCarthy before him, Johnson finds himself damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Despite continued threats to his position, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) assured his colleagues Thursday, April 19, that he won’t seek to implement a minimum threshold on a vote to oust him. The speaker had reportedly been flirting with the idea of ending the current rule that allows a single House member to bring a motion to vacate, but as rumors that he might try grew, so too grew the threat against his leadership. As dangerous as maintaining the status quo may seem to Johnson’s position, it very well might have saved him.

A Growing Concern

Johnson’s assurances, however, haven’t proven very reassuring to some. Despite now saying he won’t try to raise the threshold, Speaker Johnson had previously told reporters that the mechanism “has been abused in recent times,” adding, “maybe, at some point, we change that.”

“Since the beginning of the 118th Congress, the House rule allowing a Motion to Vacate from a single member has harmed this office and our House majority,” Johnson wrote in a post on X. “Recently, many members have encouraged me to endorse a new rule to raise this threshold. While I understand the importance of that idea, any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have.”

So, yes, he did conclude: “We will continue to govern under the existing rules.” But it’s clear that’s only because Johnson knows he doesn’t have the support required to do otherwise.

Both Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who thus far have not backed their colleague, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), in her calls to oust Johnson, have said that they would vote to vacate should the speaker attempt to change the rules. “It’s a red line for me, for sure,” Boebert said. “I think a motion to vacate is something that could put the conference in peril, and Ms. Boebert and I were working to avoid that,” Gaetz explained. “Our goal is to avoid a motion to vacate. But we are not going to surrender that accountability tool, particularly in a time when we are seeing America’s interests subjugated to foreign interests abroad.”

“Normal” Just Ain’t What It Used to Be

At the GOP retreat last month, Johnson referred to bringing back the Pelosi-era rule requiring a majority of one party to call for a vote to vacate the speakership as returning to a “more normal process on the House floor again.” But “normal” is a relative term, and a more historical perspective certainly doesn’t support Johnson’s use of the word in this case.

New banner Perpective 1The privilege to vacate the chair first appeared in Jefferson’s Manual, a list of parliamentary rules written by Thomas Jefferson for his own guidance in leading the Senate during his vice presidency. It has been 187 years since the House voted to adopt those rules, allowing the provisions of the manual to “govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the standing rules of the House and joint rules of the Senate and House of Representatives.” The privilege of vacating the speakership has existed since then as it is now – a motion to vacate can be called and, should the majority of the House agree, the speaker is removed.

Only since former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reclaimed the gavel in 2019 has there been a specific number of representatives required to force that vote. In other words, by removing this threshold so that a single member could make a motion to vacate, Republicans did return the House rules to normal in 2023.

Will Johnson Hold the Gavel?

Rep. Greene introduced a motion to vacate the speakership last month after Johnson helped pass a $1.2 trillion government spending package, but she has not yet triggered a vote on it – nor has she said when she might. What she has done, however, is repeatedly mention it whenever Johnson does something not to her liking. So far, Greene has managed to drum up little in the way of support for her motion – and, as Liberty Nation previously reported, at least some Democrats have offered to stand behind the speaker if and when the vote to vacate comes up.

Additionally, there’s a fair amount of drama fatigue in the House GOP. “Her theater and this constant effort to hold Congress hostage has to come to an end,” said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) Wednesday. “I’m going to have no part in it,” he added. According to the New York lawmaker, “a good number of my colleagues – conservative and moderate – believe that enough is enough.”

Thus far, the only other Republican to openly declare support for Greene’s motion to oust the speaker is Kentucky’s Thomas Massie. If a vote were called today, it seems quite likely that Johnson would still hold the gavel when the dust settles. So, while a single person can force a vote – and Greene very well might do so after the latest Ukraine spending proposal goes to the floor – that vote seems unlikely to spell the end of Johnson’s speakership. Most Republicans, even among the Freedom Caucus, don’t want to repeat the chaos that comes with removing a speaker, but they do want to keep the choice.

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