Democrats Weigh Prospect Of Helping Johnson Save His Job As House Speaker

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., before Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber, Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., before Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber, Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Democrats are entertaining the prospect of coming to House Speaker Mike Johnson's rescue should Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., force a vote seeking his ouster, though it will likely depend on his ability to deliver an emergency aid package focused on Ukraine and Israel.

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York has suggested that Democrats would help Johnson if the speaker faced retribution from within his own party for holding votes on the $95.3 billion package. But he's also encouraging his colleagues to take a wait-and-see approach to apply maximum leverage.

“Do not box yourself in with a public statement,” Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, the No. 2-ranking House Democratic leader, told colleagues in a closed-door session Thursday, according to a person familiar with the private remarks.

Still, Johnson's future been a much discussed topic on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said if the aid package makes it over the finish line, "I think a lot of people are not going to want to punish him for doing the right thing."

Greene has threatened to try to oust Johnson and warned that advancing funding for Ukraine would help build her case that GOP lawmakers should select a new speaker. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted this week that he told Johnson during a closed-door Republican conference meeting that he would be co-sponsoring Greene's motion. Massie suggested Johnson “should pre-announce his resignation" and give Republicans time to select a successor.

The vast majority of Republicans are distancing themselves from Greene's effort, wary of repeating the chaos the House endured last fall when eight Republicans joined with Democrats in removing then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from the post. It’s likely that Johnson would not need a large number of Democratic lawmakers to help him remain in the speaker's office, but it would depend on how many Republicans voted to remove him.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., said that if Johnson would put the Senate-passed measure on the floor, “I would do what I had to do to make sure he does not lose his job for that.” Johnson made the decision to take the Senate measure and break it into three separate bills. He's also added a fourth bill focused on national security priorities.

Breaking up the package into parts gives lawmakers the ability to vote against military assistance to Ukraine or Israel without tanking the entire measure.

Johnson said he has not asked a single Democrat to “get involved in that at all" when asked about a possible motion to vacate.

“I do not spend time walking around thinking about the motion to vacate,” Johnson said. “I have a job to do here and I'm going to do the job, regardless of personal consequences.”

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., said he would consider voting present during a speaker vote if Johnson allowed the Ukraine aid to be voted on.

“Why in the world would I want to go along with Marjorie Taylor Greene if Mike Johnson just gave us a vote I’ve been advocating for for more than six months?" Boyle said. "I think a number of Democrats would be in the same position — not necessarily a vote for him, but just make clear this is a Republican issue and we’re not going to aid and abet Marjorie Taylor Greene to cause even more chaos.”

“I hope he will have some sort of conversation with Hakeem, but either way, yes, I’m one of those who would save him if we can do Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and some reasonable border security," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Other Democrats said helping Johnson must come as part of a package deal. They said he shouldn't expect Democratic support just by putting the Senate-passed package up for a vote. He'll need to have coordinated with Jeffries as well.

“We’re just not going to go and bail out one of the most conservative Republican speakers in American history. But what Kevin McCarthy failed to do is even entertain a conversation to try to make a deal. Democrats were ready to deal. Kevin McCarthy refused to," said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. “If Speaker Johnson cares about doing the right thing as well as keeping his job, then he ought to make a deal with Democrats.”

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said there is a “powerful instinct” among Democrats that it's not their job to rescue Johnson from the chaos in his party. But he's willing to help Johnson on the motion to vacate if he were to “do the right thing” on the aid package and coordinate that with Jeffries.

“I will defer to getting things done as opposed to tying myself up in partisan knots, but it's going to be Hakeem who decides how we act,” Himes said. “We're not going to let the Republicans sort of chip off a number of us. This will be negotiated with our leadership.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said he's unlikely to help Johnson and is not sure how long the speaker would be around anyway if he has to rely on Democratic votes to continue on the job.

“I’ve listened to what Mr. Jeffries said and I won’t rule it out, but I’m inclined to vote as I normally would. I am very concerned about how long he’s delayed Ukraine. We count the days. They count the lives lost,” Doggett said.

And then there are scores of Democrats who are in the hard “no” camp.

Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., for example, said there was no way he would vote to keep Johnson as speaker.

"I think his worldview is very dangerous. I think there’s no scenario where I’m going to reward someone like that, who allows this level of chaos to happen in the House.”

And Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., also is a hard no on helping Johnson, calling it a well-intentioned idea that is fundamentally flawed.

“Bad on guns, bad on gays, bad on abortion and bad on voting rights," Connolly said. “He litigated the overturning of the (2020) election. He didn't just vote the wrong way. He signed up for a lawsuit. That's who you want to save? Go home and explain that to Democrats."

Massie warned that if Democrats help Johnson stay on a speaker, “they would doom him, they won't save him.”

"It's not a stable situation if a Republican speaker is speaker only by virtue of Democrats fighting for him," Massie said.


Congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.