Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside House Democrats' decision to save Mike Johnson

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, wearing a gray suit, and Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, sitting in chairs and chatting surrounded by people in suits and military uniforms.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite - Pool/Getty Images.

Shortly before House Democratic leadership announced Tuesday they would save Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from a motion to vacate, the party's rank-and-file hashed out the issue behind closed doors, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The link between the discussion and the statement is key to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries' (D-N.Y.) leadership style.

  • House Democrats see the minority leader as a coalition builder who always sounds out his rank-and-file before making a major decision.
  • That quality, lawmakers say, has allowed Democrats to enjoy a unity which has strengthened them in legislative fights against their relatively fractured Republican counterparts.

Driving the news: Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Tuesday that Democrats "will vote to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's Motion to Vacate the Chair."

Inside the room: The statement was precipitated by a closed-door House Democratic meeting on Tuesday morning in which many members argued to be the "adults in the room," according to five sources present for the discussion.

  • The discussion centered on a procedural nuance: It would be a vote to "table," or kill, Greene's measure, rather than a direct vote on ousting Johnson.
  • Some concerns were raised about Johnson's record on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and the 2020 election, sources said, but ultimately most members came down on the side of saving him.

What we're hearing: "There was certainly a strong feeling that, look, do we want more chaos? Absolutely not," one House Democrat told Axios.

  • The lawmaker said some members would be "personally hard-pressed" to vote to rescue Johnson, but "in the end, I think enough people will vote to table it because we want government to function."
  • A senior House Democrat, asked if anyone argued for cutting Johnson loose, told Axios: "Not that I heard."
  • Jeffries also told his colleagues it will be a vote of conscience for each individual member.

The bottom line: Greene signaled on Tuesday that she may trigger a vote on it.

  • "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," she said in a post on X.
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