Apr 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats throw Johnson a lifeline on motion to vacate

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and red tie, standing in the Capitol's studio A in front of a U.S. House of Representatives flag.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Several House Democrats reiterated their opposition to ousting House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) after a second Republican signed onto a motion to remove him on Tuesday.

Why it matters: With Republicans soon to hold a one-vote majority, Johnson would almost certainly need Democratic votes to save his speakership.

  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) announced in Republicans' closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday that he will co-sponsor Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-Ga.) motion to vacate.
  • The move comes after Johnson announced his plan for passing foreign aid in the House, including the Ukraine aid that right-wing hardliners revile.

Driving the news: Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) told Axios his opposition to ousting Johnson "has not changed."

  • Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) said he would also vote against a motion to vacate: "Yeah ... I wrote an op-ed piece about that."
  • Another House Democrat, asked if Democrats would save Johnson, told Axios: "Yes."

Between the lines: There are a number of factors, still in flux, that could determine Johnson's fate.

  • Timing is one: A senior House Democrat said it's a "serious problem" if the motion to vacate precedes foreign aid votes and that Democrats are "much more likely" to save him after foreign aid passes.
  • The unreleased details of the foreign aid package could also be key, with Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.) saying there are "a lot of moving pieces" and Johnson's "got to put his money with his mouth is."

Zoom in: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has warned Johnson that including humanitarian aid will be key to securing Democratic votes for the package.

  • Jeffries told colleagues at a Monday closed-door meeting that he privately told Johnson he won't accept anything less than the $9.5 billion in humanitarian aid included in the Senate's foreign aid bill.

What they're saying: "We have to be able to govern, and our national security is absolutely on the line ... so I remain very open to those committed to governing and getting this done," said Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio).

  • If Johnson is "willing to govern in the middle, then absolutely that's the type of thing that would secure my vote," Scholten said, adding that "a number of members ... feel the same."
  • Scholten said her constituents "don't want us spending our time wasting it on another speaker vote."

Yes, but: As with the successful motion to vacate against former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), many Democrats will defer to Jeffries.

  • "I'm going to listen to Mr. Jeffries on that one," said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.).
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said his colleagues are keeping an "open mind" about it, but "people will definitely look to the leadership for how they think we can be most effective through all the GOP chaos and dysfunction."

Reality check: A bipartisan coalition was something McCarthy consistently rejected to save his speakership, and Johnson has given no indication he feels differently.

  • Johnson projected calm about the motion to vacate on Tuesday, telling reporters: "I am not concerned about this. I am going to do my job."
  • But one House Republican close to Johnson told Axios: "I'm hopeful Democrats don't side with those who want to shut the place down."

Go deeper: Democrats warn Mike Johnson: Don't play us on foreign aid

Go deeper