Apr 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP tensions erupt over Mike Johnson ouster threat

House Speaker Mike Johnson against a black backdrop.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: JULIA NIKHINSON/AFP via Getty Images.

House Republican frustrations boiled over on Tuesday after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) threw his weight behind a threat to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Why it matters: It's another blow to a battered and beleaguered Republican majority that has struggled to secure policy wins amidst chronic infighting.

  • "People are mostly frustrated and angry," said one House Republican.
  • Another Republican lawmaker said the GOP's steering committee should be "removing certain folks off committees."

Driving the news: Massie announced at Republicans' closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday morning that he was co-sponsoring a motion to vacate introduced by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

  • Massie's announcement was met with "booing," according to the House Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
  • "People were just shaking their heads," said Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.).
  • Greene has suggested she would trigger the vote to oust Johnson if the House moves forward with a planned vote on aid to Ukraine.

What they're saying: "Many of us are growing tired of the motion to vacate theater, the waste of time and the waste of trust," said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.).

  • Meuser said Republicans have "intense decisions" to make around foreign aid and the motion to vacate is "destructive" and "not helpful" for that.
  • "I'm frustrated. We've got the world on fire and a lot of work to get done here ... to threaten it again without any plan forward is, at best, silliness, [and at worst] it's unpatriotic," said Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.).
  • Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) told Axios it's "no way to support your leader, who's on your team. That's the frustration."

Zoom in: Several lawmakers said they were shocked by the move from Massie, a onetime leadership antagonist who became more cooperative under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

  • Duarte told Axios: "I know he's a dyed in the wool libertarian ... but I was surprised to hear that kind of extremism."
  • "Massie was a surprise," said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who called it a "distraction" and an "unforced error."

The other side: "It's not just the right flank of the conference that is upset with [Johnson]. We have devolved into Lord of the Flies. There's no order. The rules are going down. There's no repercussions," said Massie.

  • Massie said he doesn't believe Johnson's "life experiences have equipped him for this job" and said "there's probably a dozen people I could be okay with whose life experiences have prepared them."
  • Of the prospect of Democrats saving Johnson, Massie said "that would not last, no, because I think people back home would get upset."

The bottom line: Duarte said there is a "real concern" Johnson is ousted because "when people do some things that are a little bit irrational, we don't know that they won't do things that are greatly irrational."

Axios' Juliegrace Brufke contributed reporting.

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