Johnson Rejects a Plan to Save His Speakership

Johnson Rejects a Plan to Save His Speakership

Johnson rejected a rule change that would have infuriated his critics.
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, April 18, 2024

Good evening! The jury selection in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial continued Thursday, while President Joe Biden got the endorsement of at least 15 members of the Kennedy clan, even as one of their own pursues a long-shot independent bid for the White House. And Dickie Betts, the renowned Allman Brothers co-founder and guitarist, died at the age of 80.

Here’s what else you should know, including details about this week’s congressional drama.

Johnson Rejects a Rule Change Aimed at Thwarting Republican Rebels

House Republicans continued to snipe at each other Thursday as party leadership continued to propel a $95 billion package of aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan toward a series of weekend votes.

With Speaker Mike Johnson facing a growing threat from members of his own conference seeking his ouster, Republican leaders reportedly discussed the idea, pushed by some members, of inserting language into the procedural rules for the aid bills making it harder to remove the speaker.

Right now, any single lawmaker can call up a "motion to vacate" vote to oust the speaker. Conservative Republicans had demanded that rule in exchange for backing Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speaker’s gavel at the beginning of the current Congress. They described it as a way to ensure they could hold their leader accountable — and eight Republicans took advantage of the rule to remove McCarthy last fall.

"Enough is enough," Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota wrote Thursday on X, formerly Twitter. "The Motion to Vacate is a waste of time. We need to change the rules." Johnson said the change was necessary so that "one knucklehead can’t put the whole House into disarray by forcing another speaker vote."

But word that Johnson and other Republicans might be eyeing a change to the rule quickly led the speaker’s ultraconservative critics to erupt in anger, with some reportedly confronting Johnson on the House floor. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is leading the GOP charge to boot Johnson from his job, told reporters that if he changes the threshold for the motion to vacate, "he’s going to prove exactly what I’ve been saying is correct: He is the Democrat speaker."

Other Republicans warned that changing the threshold would only result in more Republicans joining in the current revolt. "I told him there’s nothing that will get you to a motion to vacate faster than changing the threshold," Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said, per the Associated Press.

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Johnson insisted he isn’t preoccupied with the ouster threat but did not entirely dismiss the idea of changing the rule governing a motion to vacate. "It’s a procedural matter here that I think has been abused in recent times," he said. "Maybe at some point we change that, but right now, I got to do my job, and so do all my colleagues."

By Thursday, the speaker was more emphatic in rejecting the idea — while still describing it as damaging. "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," he wrote in a social media post. "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. We will continue to govern under the existing rules."

Democrats suggest they’ll help: While Republicans were lashing out at each other, leaders from both sides of the aisle were looking to impress upon their members the urgency of delivering fresh aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia’s invasion. "We are at a real pivotal point in history as we look at the map and our adversaries," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. "Looking at Ukraine, it’s a dire situation. … Time is not on our side."

And the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, told reporters that Democrats are willing to help get the aid bills over the finish line. "This is a moment in history where we need to ensure that at long last we are bringing this critical aid to Ukraine to the floor," she said.

Number of the Day: 212,000

There were 212,000 initial jobless claims in the week ending April 13, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The results were slightly below expectations and on par with the numbers from a week ago, indicating that layoffs are holding steady at a relatively modest level.

"Overall, layoffs remain low," Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, told Reuters. "We expect a continuation of the current trend, with a further adjustment in the labor market coming from a moderation in hiring rather than a surge in firings."

Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, said the latest numbers show "a remarkable calm & stability in the American labor market." With the 13-week moving average still sitting under the pre-pandemic norm of 213,000 initial jobless claims per month, Brusuelas added a little friendly employment advice. "This is the best labor market in your career arc," he wrote. "Know your value & make sure to profit from it."

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