Democratic Leaders Vow to Save Republican Speaker Mike Johnson

Democratic Leaders Vow to Save Republican Speaker Mike Johnson

Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA

Congress may be done funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year and pushing through a major foreign aid package, but the fallout from those contentious spending bills isn’t over yet.

With Republican anger bubbling up against Speaker Mike Johnson, House Democratic leaders announced Tuesday that they would help protect the GOP leader if far-right members of his own party try to oust him. Democrats said they were making their extraordinary pledge of support for a rival leader in hopes of avoiding further chaos in the House chamber.

Johnson, chosen by Republicans just six months ago to replace the ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy, raised the ire of many in his own party by relying on Democratic votes to pass annual government funding bills and a $95 billion package of foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has threatened to force a vote on a motion to vacate the speaker’s job, and two of her colleagues — Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona — have signed on to the effort. Other GOP lawmakers have suggested they would consider ousting Johnson, though most continue to support him.

Given the narrow Republican majority in the House, Johnson would need Democratic backing to keep his gavel. Some rank-and-file Democrats had previously indicated that they would step in to save Johnson if he risked his job by allowing votes on the aid bills, but party leaders only made that position explicit on Tuesday.

“From the very beginning of this Congress, House Democrats have put people over politics and found bipartisan common ground with traditional Republicans in order to deliver real results. At the same time, House Democrats have aggressively pushed back against MAGA extremism. We will continue to do just that,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar said in an extraordinary joint statement. “At this moment, upon completion of our national security work, 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.”

At a morning meeting in which some Democrats voiced concerns about Johnson, Jeffries reportedly told his members that they would be allowed to vote their conscience — but many Democrats back the idea of allowing Johnson to stay in place. “We want to turn the page. We don’t want to turn the clock back and let Marjorie Taylor Greene dictate the schedule or the calendar that’s ahead. Spending time on this just doesn’t make sense to us,” Aguilar told reporters afterward.

Greene responded by saying she’d make her push against Johnson anyway, though she did not specify when. “Mike Johnson is officially the Democrat Speaker of the House,” she wrote in a post on social media. “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.”

Johnson was asked about the Democrats’ announcement at a House GOP news conference Tuesday morning and said it was the first he’d heard of it. He insisted he has been focused on his work and denied that he had cut any deals or requested any support from Democrats.

“I have to do my job,” he said. “We have to do what we believe to be the right thing. What the country needs right now is a functioning Congress. They need a Congress that works well, works together, and does not hamper its own ability to solve these problems.”

He defended his approach to the speakership, insisting that he has always been and will continue to be a conservative Republican but was doing the job as he believes it is supposed to be done. And he said no one can afford another prolonged House battle over the speaker’s gavel.

“The Speaker of the House serves the whole body,” he said in response to a question about whether he’d be comfortable staying on as speaker as the result of Democratic support. “We shouldn’t be playing politics and, you know, engaging in the chaos that looks like the palace intrigue here. We need to be doing the job that the framers intended for Congress to play, and that’s what I’m about.”

The bottom line: Johnson’s job is safe — for now — even if Greene forces a vote to oust him. But the job of managing a fractious and historically small Republican majority won’t get any easier if he is ultimately saved by Democrats, even as former President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the speaker is doing a good job. With the November elections just over six months aways, Greene may still be right when she insists that Johnson’s days as speaker are numbered.