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House rebels ignore Trump as Johnson faces ouster threat

Mike Johnson (R-LA) hoped Donald Trump could head off a brewing effort to remove him as House speaker. 

But he is learning the limits of the former president’s power in an unruly and divided House where even a single Republican defection could prove fatal to his early speakership.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who is weighing a motion to oust Johnson, appeared unfazed by his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago on Friday, where Trump gave the speaker his vote of confidence and called the move a distraction.

“Well, it’s unfortunate that people bring it up because we have much bigger problems,” Trump said. 

The visit reflected Trump’s newfound sway in the party since clinching the delegates needed to become the Republican nominee for president. But Greene’s reaction only served to illustrate how deep-seated her frustrations with Johnson had become.

She told reporters the show of support did not change her stance, chalking Trump’s words up to a disagreement among allies. She has so far not forced a motion to vacate but could do so at any time.

“I support a lot of people I don’t agree with,” she said. “All the time.”

Greene is not alone. Her threat became more real on Tuesday when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) became the first lawmaker to announce he would co-sponsor her bill.

He called for Johnson’s resignation at a meeting of House Republicans, prompting a sharp rebuke.

“I am not resigning,” Johnson said in a press conference, “and it is, in my view, an absurd notion.”

“It is not helpful to the cause; it is not helpful to the country. It does not help the House Republicans advance our agenda,” he added.

Johnson faces the same headache as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, who lasted nine months on the job before eight hard-liners joined with Democrats to depose him in October.

House Republicans, by and large, have no appetite to relive the three weeks of chaos that ensued as the conference struggled to elect a new speaker, especially so close to the November election.

But their vanishingly small, soon-to-be one-seat majority has meant that any two lawmakers can in theory oust him.

Greene has called the deal Johnson cut on 2024 spending a betrayal, while Massie joins her in opposing his compromises on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Ukraine aid. But establishment-minded Republicans regard the pair as legislative arsonists who would be unhappy with any deal Johnson cuts.

The speaker often notes he must settle for legislation that conservatives won’t entirely like because of Democrats’ control of the White House and Senate.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), a close ally of Trump, believes there was utility in Johnson’s trip to Mar-a-Lago.

“I think, look, if Trump hadn’t stood up there with Johnson, Johnson would be toast. It certainly gave him a little cover,” he said.

But Vance said there are limits to what Trump can do in a chamber Johnson controls.

“We’ll see what happens with that,” the former president, speaking at a bodega in New York City, said of Johnson on Tuesday before calling him a “great person.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) listens during a news conference, Friday, April 12, 2024, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The House has undergone a dramatic realignment since Trump became president in 2017, but Massie is among the handful of House conservatives not afraid to buck him. He unapologetically backed Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in the Republican primary for president last year.

Johnson is on more secure footing than McCarthy. At least two Democrats have offered to protect him from a motion to vacate, assuming he puts the defense bill aiding Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan on the House floor.

The money is a top priority of President Joe Biden as he navigates wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

“There are a reasonable number of Democrats who would not want to see the speaker fall as a result of doing the right thing,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said at a Monday press conference.

Meanwhile, Johnson has not faced the level of GOP anger that endangered McCarthy. Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ), one of the eight Republicans to boot him, told CNN, “The timing would be pretty bad to have a change in command.”

Greene, for her part, has suggested that more lawmakers will join her side if the House passes the Ukraine bill, a lightning rod among House Republicans who want to see the conflict with Russia come to an end.

Massie went so far as to suggest Trump would change his mind on Johnson, who is not completely aligned with the former president on policy.

“I think he’ll come around,” Massie told reporters.

Trump has exerted his influence over Congress in other ways. Johnson has made a point to brief him on legislation, sometimes tailoring its language to get his buy-in.

That includes packaging the Ukraine money as a loan. On FISA, House Republicans shortened the extension to two years and put in place guardrails to prevent the FBI from abusing its spy powers, as it did with Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2016.

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“We just understand the importance — I mean, he’s the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. We need to make sure that he’s part of some of the decisions moving forward,” said Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who remains in close contact with House GOP leadership since his election to the Senate in 2022.

“I think it’s important for him to know where we’re moving,” Mullin added.



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