May 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Mike Johnson's short game

This is Mike Johnson

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

After inheriting an impossible situation in October, Mike Johnson has proved better at this than many expected.

Why it matters: The House speaker has found ways to turn his tiny majority into an escape hatch, repeatedly reminding everyone that he — and only he — stands in the way of chaos that could sink the GOP's chances in November.

  • "I'm the most conservative member who has ever held the gavel as speaker, but the reality of our numbers [is] our challenge," Johnson told Axios in an interview on Thursday.
  • "Some of my colleagues want us to throw Hail Mary passes on every play."

In just the last few weeks, Johnson has shown us the playbook that will help him avoid ouster when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) calls a motion to vacate next week.

  • Johnson attached himself to former President Trump's hip — with a joint press conference on elections last month. He will also speak at Mar-a-Lago fundraisers this weekend.
  • He called Greene's bluff by plowing ahead on Ukraine aid and framing it in nonpartisan terms that allowed Democrats to have his back.
  • Johnson seized on the college protests to unify his caucus without alienating too many House Democrats.
  • And Johnson marginalized his loudest critics, rather than elevating their status with public repercussions.

Johnson's specific target is Greene, who insists she isn't defying Trump despite the former president saying he stands by the speaker.

  • "I'm not sure what goes into Marjorie's analysis," Johnson told Axios.
  • "Bless her heart," Johnson told NewsNation about Greene.
  • Johnson called next week's vote an "unhelpful distraction" when his party is working to combat antisemitism and seeking to build their majority in November.

The bottom line: Johnson's low-key strategy could come back to bite him.

  • His decision to not push for a rules change on the motion to vacate — perhaps because it might have come with Democratic preconditions — leaves him vulnerable to ouster through Election Day.

Go deeper: Johnson blasts "MIA" Biden on college protests

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