GOP Reps Slam MTG’s Mutiny—but Mike Johnson Still Faces Gangplank

When Congress left for a week-long recess on April 20, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) had a message for her colleagues: Go home and listen to your constituents.

It would be a harmless ask most of the time. But at that fraught moment, with the future of the House GOP on the line, Greene’s proposal landed more like an ultimatum.

That same day, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) had enraged conservatives by successfully pushing a $95 billion foreign aid package—with a huge tranche of support for Ukraine—through the House. Over half the House GOP conference voted against Ukraine aid.

Greene had been struggling to get enough support for her motion to oust Johnson, filed last month. After Ukraine aid passed, what Greene was essentially telling colleagues was: If you didn’t support removing Johnson before, go home, feel constituents’ anger, and come back ready to fire him.

“I’m actually going to let my colleagues go home and hear from their constituents because I think people have been too obsessed with voting for foreign wars and the murder industry here in America to actually understand how angry Americans are,” Greene said.

As lawmakers return to Washington this week—with Greene poised to make good on her threat to force a vote on ousting Johnson eventually—Republicans certainly heard from constituents over the recess, as Greene had hoped.

But they’re not all convinced that Johnson needs to go—at least not right now. Some are more resolved than ever to defend the speaker.

“She needs to stop it,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) told The Daily Beast of Greene. “The theatrics, the drama, the crisis-creating doesn’t help my constituents. It doesn’t improve the lives of those we serve nor this country. It’s tiring, unhelpful and wrong.”

When asked what kind of comments he is getting from constituents, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC)—who has not expressed whether or not he would support the push to oust Johnson—said the bulk are puzzled, saying they “thought Speaker Johnson was conservative” or asking: “Why is he siding with Democrats on spending issues?”

Speaker Johnson visits Columbia University in New York on April 24, 2024.

Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images

But while some members and their constituents don’t agree with how Johnson has run the Republican conference and would like to see him gone, there remains skepticism about ousting a sitting speaker for the second time in six months and so close to a critical election.

“My folks in Tennessee are incredibly informed and although they are upset over some of the funding votes and not securing the border, they are afraid that by removing Johnson it would hand the gavel over to the Democrats, and that’s pretty much the consensus,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN), who was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, told The Daily Beast.

In some cases, GOP members used the recess to actually marshal support for Johnson.

“I poll all my folks. Once people understand what could actually take place they don’t want this at all,” said Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), who is a staunch defender of Speaker Johnson.

To others, Greene’s conviction that members would get besieged with backlash to Johnson over the recess reflects a misreading of what core GOP voters truly care about.

Another GOP member, granted anonymity to speak freely, said this tactic shows “how disconnected from reality Marjorie is,” claiming they haven’t run into “[motion to vacate] trolls back home at church soup suppers, town hall meetings, or car shows.”

“I assume they are busy in their mom’s basement, raging as keyboard warriors,” this member said. “The voters I talk to in person know things need to change, but they are blaming Joe Biden, not Mike Johnson.”

Even former President Donald Trump, who vehemently opposes Ukraine aid, has not condemned Johnson in recent days, saying instead that the speaker is doing his best. Publicly, the speaker himself has insisted he’s not worried about the brewing revolt.

Still, even if some members are not as fired up in lockstep as Greene may have hoped, there is very real energy behind her push to remove him.

The coming weeks on Capitol Hill may be a test of whether the hardcore MAGA cohort Greene represents can overcome the ambivalence or even opposition in many corners to removing Johnson, despite the feelings of betrayal over his support for Ukraine aid.

What seems certain is that the fight will push an already bruised and divided House GOP further past the brink.

Last month, Greene unveiled her motion to oust Johnson, citing a litany of grievances over how the new GOP leader has handled the job. As of Monday, just two other lawmakers have signed onto the motion: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). (All three, notably, opposed removing McCarthy last year.)

Before leaving for the recess, Johnson put three bills directing billions in support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on the floor. While all three passed by wide bipartisan margins, hardliners on the right were furious with his decision to hold a vote at all on the measures.

Most troubling for Johnson was the Ukraine aid measure that passed 311 to 112, with all 210 Democrats in attendance voting for the bill, and all 112 of the no votes coming from the GOP. As the bill passed, Democrats on the House floor waved Ukrainian flags and cheered in solidarity with the U.S. ally that has been subject to a brutal Russian invasion for two years.

The anti-Johnson crowd is still fuming.

“Speaker Johnson enlisted a majority of Democrats to override a majority of Republicans so he could: 1) pass an omnibus that spends more than [Nancy] Pelosi did, including a new FBI building. 2) reauthorize warrantless spying on Americans 3) send $60 billion to Ukraine. Unforgivable,” Massie said in a post on X on Sunday.

There is some doubt among members that Greene will actually begin the process of forcing a vote on the motion to vacate. Some believe it is merely a tactic to force Johnson to step down, similar to what happened to former Speaker John Boehner back in 2015.

But those who truly know Greene believe there is little doubt that she will follow through.

The Georgia Republican has been adamant that she is not bluffing and still believes Johnson is a “lame duck speaker” who will not be speaker or the leader of the Republican Conference next Congress.

“If we had the vote today in our conference, he would not be speaker,” Greene told reporters last Saturday.

The math is also not in Johnson’s favor. If a motion to vacate were to come up, Johnson could only afford to lose two Republican votes if no Democrats help him out. Since three Republicans have already signed onto the motion, Johnson’s future as speaker would be put in the hands of Democrats, some of whom seem poised to save Johnson if they must.

“The institution really needs to be respected,” former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told The Daily Beast. “And if people are doing something wrong, then the chair should be vacated. But if it’s a difference of opinion, that’s democracy.”

Many GOP members are indeed furious with Johnson and may truly want him gone. But at this point in a tortured session of Congress, the pain of starting over again may simply be too high.

But one thing is clear, animosity towards Johnson is growing at an alarming rate for the speaker and there is an increased openness to supporting a potential motion to vacate, even if some are weary of the timing or potential consequences.

After spending some time at home, Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ)—who was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy—said he is “open” to removing Johnson and that it would be “really hard for me to save Speaker Johnson with my vote” if the motion to vacate was triggered.

But Crane tempered his stance by saying he does not believe the timing of a potential motion to vacate is “right.”

His sentiment is shared by others in the Republican conference.

“Everyone in grassroots wants him gone for abandoning the border,” another GOP member told The Daily Beast. “But most are suspicious of doing it heading into [the] election… so he’s basically sitting on razor-thin ice.”

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