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Mike Johnson faced motion to vacate from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Mike Johnson and MTG win and lose

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) hugely controversial attempt to oust Speaker Mike Johnson failed miserably on Wednesday. Just 11 Republicans voted to consider ditching Johnson, a measly 5% of the House Republican Conference.

But this is the House, an institution where power isn’t always measured at the surface level. Power is often a perception that becomes a reality. During this episode, both Greene and Johnson had wins and both suffered some embarrassing losses.

Johnson’s wins: Johnson’s allies were working us over very hard following the vote to say why their guy was in great shape after Greene failed to oust him. We’ll make that judgment, thanks.

Let’s start here: Johnson is still speaker. A whopping 196 House Republicans voted to table the motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, plus 163 Democrats. By an overwhelming margin, the House declared it didn’t want a replay of October’s debacle with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“I want to say that I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues to defeat this misguided effort, that is certainly what it was,” Johnson said afterward. “Hopefully, this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined the 118th Congress.”

Johnson’s aides and allies kept asserting that not all 11 Republicans who voted against the motion to table would vote against Johnson if there were a speaker election tomorrow. Maybe so, maybe not. We heard McCarthy’s friends tell us for months that he’d never be ousted from the job. There’s often a dangerous combination of tunnel vision and delusion in the House Republican Conference.

One of the other upsides for Johnson is that he now knows precisely where his problems are beyond Greene and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) — the three original supporters of the motion to vacate. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) voted to dump McCarthy and opposed the motion to table too.

Johnson’s losses: The Louisiana Republican looks weak. Alarmingly weak.

First, Johnson bucked many of his leadership colleagues when he decided last month not to rework the motion to vacate as part of the Ukraine aid package. Much of the House GOP leadership wanted to make it harder to do what Greene just did — call a snap vote on his speakership. Johnson didn’t and suffered the consequences.

Johnson has a Trump problem. Johnson has been hugging former President Donald Trump as closely as possible for the last few months. Johnson held a news conference with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, appeared at the Trump campaign’s donor retreat, devoted the top of his news conference earlier this week to saying the charges against Trump are bogus, and stood with Trump’s allies on the Capitol steps Wednesday to push a bill making something illegal that’s already illegal. All this helped him.

Yet on Wednesday, Trump issued a statement on Truth Social that backed Johnson while still leaving the door open to dumping him:

This is Trump 101. Trump helped Johnson, but he’s also keeping the Louisiana Republican on a short string. Welcome to Trump’s world, Mr. Speaker.

The larger problem for Johnson, as we’ve written several times, is that Greene or other Republicans can bring this motion again. And if that happens, there’s no guarantee Democrats will save him.

Greene’s wins: From the beginning of this process more than six weeks ago, Greene said her goal was to get Republicans on the record voting with Democrats to save Johnson. It’s certainly unconventional for a lawmaker to force a vote designed to embarrass members of their own party. But that was MTG’s stated objective and she achieved it.

And 11 no votes on tabling the motion was more than Johnson or other top House Republicans were expecting. Senior GOP aides told us they anticipated fewer than five Republicans would line up with Greene. If Democrats hadn’t saved Johnson, the House would be in the midst of another ugly floor fight for speaker.

Greene’s losses: Let’s be clear. Greene lost badly here. She was unable to boot Johnson even after he green-lighted $61 billion of new Ukraine aid, mostly with Democratic votes. That was supposed to be the red line for Republicans.

Johnson’s patience for Greene is clearly wearing thin. The normally unflappable Johnson has derided her as an unserious lawmaker. Then Johnson ostentatiously rolled his eyes when we asked him Tuesday about the speed with which he would respond to Greene’s demands.

Greene has isolated herself within the Republican Conference by this latest maneuver, no matter how much cred she picked up with outside groups and conservative media. That won’t help Greene get any of what she wants.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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