Democrats Could Save Speaker Johnson — But Republicans Say That Would Doom Him

The speaker’s tenuous status within his own party leaves Democrats wondering how to navigate House GOP “cannibalism.”

Faced with the possibility of a revolt within his own party if he allows a vote on helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s brutal invasion, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) may need help from Democrats to keep his job.

But there’s a problem with that: Many members of his party see any hint of help from across the aisle as even more reason to oust him.

And that leaves Democrats, who favor Ukraine aid, in an awkward position: How do you help when your help is unwanted?

“Our general approach has been that [Make America Great Again] Republicans have to solve the problems that MAGA Republicans create,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told HuffPost Tuesday. “We cannot cure the MAGA caucus of their intrinsic cannibalism.”

He continued, “Having said that, the real ethical imperative now is to get aid to the people of Ukraine. I will talk to anybody about what needs to be done to get aid to people.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said he supported Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) threat to call a vote to oust Johnson from the speaker’s chair if he brings Ukraine aid to the floor. Johnson laid out a plan Monday night to do just that, in conjunction with aid to Israel, Taiwan and another measure with several GOP-favored national security-oriented provisions.

With Republicans having only two votes to spare in party-line votes, a margin which will drop even further when Rep. Mike Gallagher’s (R-Wis.) resignation becomes effective later in the week, the threat to Johnson’s hold on power is real.

Johnson said he was unconcerned but delayed the release of the details of his plan until Wednesday.

The resulting pileup has led to a tableau of incongruous and awkward scenes on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Tuesday morning saw Johnson at a press conference trying to shift focus away from the House GOP and back to the effort to convict Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in his impeachment — which Greene is helping manage.

And after appearing with Johnson at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Friday and saying Johnson was doing “a very good job,” former President Donald Trump said Tuesday after a court appearance in New York, “We’ll see what happens with that” when asked about the effort to oust the speaker.

Massie on Tuesday also gave the bluntest assessment yet as to why Johnson still was in his post, even as discontent was rising among House Republicans: They are afraid of a replay of October, when the House was paralyzed for three weeks as the GOP met daily for hours on end to try to name a new speaker but saw several candidacies implode publicly before Johnson’s.

“I think the concern for that happening again is literally the only reason he’s still speaker,” Massie told reporters.

“I think he would say, ‘Well, he’s the only one that could get the votes, or do you really want to go through that again?’”

That’s also why Massie said he wants Johnson to announce a resignation date to provide for a more orderly transition.

Kevin McCarthy, the former congressman from California who became the first speaker ousted from the floor, blamed Democrats in part for his exit, saying he had been told they would not support such a move, as eight Republicans voting with all of them ensured his defeat.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has tiptoed gingerly around the same question with Johnson, declining to answer directly if Democrats would help Johnson survive, especially if he helped push Ukraine aid across the finish line.

“I believe that there are a reasonable number of Democrats who would not want to see the speaker fall as a result of doing the right thing,” Jeffries said last week, though he added that was “an observation,” not a declaration of support.

But for many Republicans, if the Democrats were to be for Johnson, they would be against him. Even for those not supporting an ouster, the prospect of a speaker holding on to the gavel only because Democrats allow him to is just not tenable.

“I don’t think that’s a sustainable position for a Republican speaker. It may be very temporarily, but I don’t think that’s a sustainable position,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who dismissed the ouster effort as being pushed by only two members. “I don’t think Speaker Johnson wants to be speaker with Democrat votes.”

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said: “The good thing about Johnson is I don’t think he’ll cut a deal. I don’t think he’ll give them anything to save his job. The only way they’d save him is if they get something for it. That’s how it works.”

Massie also said a Democratic-backed Johnson in the speaker’s role was unsustainable.

“That would not last, no. Because I think people back home would get upset, particularly given that every bill we put on the floor is exactly as [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer would have it,” he said.

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) said he was unconcerned about the ouster effort because he did not think anyone else in the House Republican conference would want the speaker’s job.

“Who wants the job? We went into three weeks, right? We got deep into the bench, right? We skipped over all of our leadership and everything. So then, who’s going to want the job?” he asked.

The whole issue presents a quandary for representatives like Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, who wants Ukraine to get aid but remains wary of the potential consequences.”

“Despite our [political differences] it’s not good for the country to have this place totally dysfunctional,” he said. “These people, they hate each other more than they hate us.”

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