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Mike Johnson faces a potential motion to vacate

The politics of saving Mike Johnson

At some point soon, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is likely to ask for a vote on her motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson. Greene is holding a news conference at 9 a.m. today. We’re told that Greene will provide a much clearer picture of if and when she plans to seek a vote on Johnson’s future.

But some of the air was let out of Greene’s balloon on Tuesday when House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other top Democrats said they’d save Johnson if necessary. So Johnson will remain as speaker barring some extraordinary reversal.

We wanted to spend a few minutes this morning going over the decision-making process on this, the politics for both sides and what’s next for Johnson and the Democratic leadership.

1) How Democrats decided to save Johnson. Jeffries’ statement that he, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar would vote to table any motion to vacate was released just as Democrats were wrapping up a caucus meeting. The overwhelming sentiment inside the meeting was that saving Johnson should come at a price. Several Democrats said they wanted Republicans to set aside overly partisan messaging bills and put bipartisan priorities — including the Affordable Connectivity Program — on the floor.

But in reality, the decision to back Johnson was long in the works. Jeffries had been signaling it publicly and privately for weeks. It was discussed at a Democratic leadership meeting on Monday night. Jeffries was getting pressure from rank-and-file Democrats to make a statement as they watched Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and other colleagues say on TV they weren’t going to let Greene oust Johnson.

And although the Democratic leadership used Tuesday’s meeting to “hear people out,” the leadership statement on Johnson was drafted the night before. The leadership trio only released it after they judged the mood in the caucus.

Knowing he had the freedom to make the statement was a power move by Jeffries.

2) What if Greene keeps trying to oust Johnson? One of our big questions right now is what happens if Greene or other conservative hardliners keep trying to oust Johnson? Will Democrats keep stepping up to save him?

We put that question to Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar. They pointedly didn’t say their vow to save Johnson extends beyond this one instance.

Jeffries: “The statement speaks for itself at this particular point in time. That’s the only thing that’s in front of us. That’s the only thing that we have evaluated.”

Clark: “We would take it up with the caucus and address it. This is very much circumstance driven.”

Aguilar: “If [Greene] keeps doing this every week, then that’s something that the speaker is going to have to think through. I mean, this is their rule structure that they created. It seems like that would be the solution. But, you know, I didn’t write those rules. So that’s something he’ll have to navigate.”

3) The politics for Greene. For Greene, the threat of ousting Johnson is in many ways more useful than the reality of actually ousting him. Greene gets far more attention — and presumably raises way more money — when she’s trying to dump Johnson. Just take a look at the news conference this morning, which is certain to be packed.

The House Democratic leadership’s statement backing Johnson was an absolute gift for Greene. Now the contrast she is trying to draw is clear — Johnson is a Republican speaker who can only stay in office with Democratic support.

Johnson told our friend Blake Burman of NewsNation that Greene is not a serious lawmaker.

4) The politics for House Democrats. Backing Johnson certainly isn’t an easy pill to swallow for House Democrats, especially when they’re getting nothing new in return. But Johnson did move the FY2024 spending bills and Ukraine funding, huge Democratic priorities. The White House badly wanted the FISA reauthorization package too. Johnson made it happen.

This also helps some of the party’s more vulnerable moderates. Democrats are positioning themselves as the adults in the room looking to prevent new GOP chaos.

5) The politics for Johnson. We’ve often wondered about Johnson’s longevity if he’s kept in the job by Democrats. There’s an argument to be made that now, with the GOP conference so fractured, this is the only way for him to survive. And the only way for the House GOP not to completely bottom out is for Johnson to stay speaker with Democratic support.

More: The House will vote just once today. The main attraction is a bill expanding the definition of antisemitism for the Education Department in response to the pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses nationwide.

Opposition was growing on the House Democratic side late Tuesday. A lot of Democrats are eyeing whether Jeffries offers a more full-throated endorsement of the measure which is authored by Reps. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).

– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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