May 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats warn Mike Johnson about private talks with MTG

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and blue and red striped tie, standing in front of flags.

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

House Democrats are aghast as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) conducts a series of lengthy meetings with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) aimed at defusing her efforts to oust him.

Why it matters: Democrats have already vowed to protect Johnson from Greene's motion – leading many of them to ask why he's still trying to appease her.

  • "He has to be careful here," said one senior House Democrat, telling Axios that "if he looks like he's just simply going to try to capitulate to her that could affect [the way] some Democrats see him."
  • House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said Tuesday: "When Speaker Johnson meets with her for hours, the American people should be asking 'what is Marjorie Taylor Greene extracting from the speaker?'"

Driving the news: Greene met with Johnson for several hours this week, laying out demands that include no more aid to Ukraine and defunding special counsel probes.

  • Johnson told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday: "It's not a negotiation, okay, this is how I've operated as speaker."
  • After their meeting on Tuesday, Greene said "the ball is in Mike Johnson's court" and that she doesn't have a "specific timeline." She previously promised to force a vote this week.

What they're saying: "I don't know what in the world they could be talking about for hours on end, and I don't know why he would waste his time there. We have given enough indication we can help him get back to business," Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.) told Axios.

  • Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) told Axios: "You cannot placate her. The minute you try to appease her, she's going to have new demands."
  • "I worry that the Republicans are focused more on their internal battles and their culture wars than trying to do what's right for the American people as a whole," said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.).

Zoom in: House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) compared Johnson's talks with Greene to the deal former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) struck with hardliners last January.

  • Included in the deal was a rule allowing any member to force a vote on removing the speaker, which led to McCarthy's ouster and now has empowered Greene to bring Johnson to the table.

Between the lines: Democrats are still broadly committed to saving Johnson, said Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), but "three months from now, that doesn't necessarily [have to] be the case" for some of his less committed colleagues.

  • Another House Democrat told Axios: "It's fine – sit, listen, it doesn't cost you anything. But at some point you say: discussion's over, shit or get off the pot. This has already consumed way too much attention."

The other side: Some Democrats see Johnson as just doing what he needs to do.

  • "What I saw that I liked is he put bills in front of the House to vote on ... if he keeps doing that, my only complaints will be policy," said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.).
  • "The concessions that I've heard about, they're meaningless ... I don't think she's a threat to anyone," said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

What to watch: One House Republican predicted Johnson won't give Greene any concessions, telling Axios he's "just trying to give her an exit ramp."

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