Apr 19, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats want Mike Johnson to sweat for his bailouts

Photo Illustration of Mike Johnson with cartoon sweat droplets

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty

House Democrats saving Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence, but they're not about to let him off easy.

Why it matters: That dynamic will be key if a group of right-wing Republican hardliners moves forward with trying to oust Johnson as speaker.

  • Democrats came to Johnson's rescue late Thursday night and again on Friday morning by helping save his foreign aid package in both the House Rules Committee and on the House floor.
  • In both cases, Democrats broke with longstanding modern norms in crossing over to vote with the GOP on typically party-line procedural votes.
  • But in the House floor vote, Democrats initially held off on voting to advance the package until most Republicans had already voted.

What we're hearing: Democratic leadership gave a specific directive not to vote on the measure right away despite the fact that they were almost certain to save it anyway, four House Democrats and a leadership aide told Axios.

  • "It's what we did for the debt ceiling ... we were told to hold off until you get a signal," said one of the lawmakers.
  • The sources told Axios the purpose of the delay was to demonstrate that Republicans couldn't pass it on their own and put the depths of their divisions on display.
  • "They wanted to make the point that it was Democrats that made it happen," said former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Zoom in: Another House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Axios, "We don't want this to become a regular practice."

What they're saying: Democrats hailed the vote as enshrining what Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) described as a "bipartisan governing coalition."

  • "I'm delighted, because I never imagined that in the minority I might be part of a constructive, forward moving, bipartisan coalition," Himes said.
  • "We've got a governing coalition of 200 Democrats, 100 Republicans. We're going to continue to see that play out the rest of this Congress," said Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.).
  • House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Nickel added, has "outsized influence in everything that moves through the House."

What to watch: Democrats have long suggested they would save Johnson on the motion to vacate, and some are eager for that exact scenario to play out.

  • "There's some feeling that we wouldn't be so upset if they brought a motion to vacate, even though some people ... would vote to table," said one House Democrat.
  • "It just shows more Republican chaos," the lawmaker said.

Jeffries isn't tipping his hand. "At the appropriate time, we will have a conversation about how to deal with any hypothetical motion of the vacate," he said at a press conference on Friday.

  • Jeffries said his team and Johnson's are in "constant communication," but he "did not speak to Mike Johnson about the numbers necessary" to save the foreign aid bill.
  • "It was pretty obvious, given the growing number of pro-Putin Republicans in the GOP ... that this was going to require substantial Democratic participation," he said.

The bottom line: For most Democrats, the displays of Republican chaos and dysfunction serve the purpose of putting them back in the majority come November.

  • "I think they've ... shown that they're not the party that should be in charge of making this place work," said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.).
Go deeper