Greene threatens to throw House back into chaos with threat to oust Speaker Johnson

The House may be headed for chaos — again.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) new bid to oust Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent shockwaves through Washington on Friday, infuriating many Republicans who are scrambling to unite ahead of November’s elections, while threatening to throw the House — and especially the GOP conference — into a state of spring mayhem.

Greene did not immediately move to force a vote on her resolution, which means it didn’t trigger action on removing Johnson right away. But it threatens to replicate the disarray of last October, when a small but formidable group of conservative firebrands booted former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from the Speakership.

That unprecedented move was a black eye for a Republican Party that had stormed into 2023 with a new House majority and high hopes of uniting behind a conservative agenda to serve as a check on the Biden administration. Instead, the internal frictions have practically defined the GOP’s months in the majority, distracting from their policy platform and lending ammunition to Democratic accusations that Republicans are incapable of governing effectively.

It’s a trend many GOP lawmakers say has only gotten worse with the arrival of Greene’s new resolution.

“Speaker Johnson is put in a very difficult situation,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) told The Hill. “We can’t keep the Republican circular firing squad. When this happens, only the Democrats end up winning.”

Greene’s motion came in response to Johnson’s endorsement of a $1.2 trillion package to fund large parts of the government through the end of the fiscal year, which runs through September.

It was negotiated with Democrats in the White House and Congress — an acknowledgement of the divided powers that currently define Washington — but the deal infuriated spending hawks who had pressed Johnson to go to the mats for steeper cuts to federal programs and conservative policy riders, even if it meant shutting down the government.

“This bill was basically a dream and a wish list for Democrats and for the White House,” Greene said shortly after filing her resolution. “It was completely led by Chuck Schumer, not our Republican Speaker of the House, not our conference.”

Greene’s mutinous move exasperated many Republicans, including lawmakers facing difficult reelection contests in November, who are eager to focus on President Biden’s track record on issues like inflation and the border — not the internal strife dogging their party.

“The American people agree with us on the issues. What they don’t agree with is the idiocy and the chaos that is totally unnecessary and does nothing to actually solve the problem,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who is running for reelection in a district that Biden won by roughly 10 points in 2020.

“The people that are so upset about this bill today should have thought about that long and hard before they removed Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.”

Now, some Republicans are aiming their ire in the direction of Greene, slamming her rabble-rousing maneuver that has the potential to thrust the conference into more tumult.

“Some members need to come to the realization — like most children must — life isn’t fair, they don’t always get what they want, and we don’t have enough votes in even one house of the government,” one moderate GOP lawmaker told The Hill.

While anger abounded Friday, some Republicans said they were not completely surprised by Greene, who has returned to her agitator ways since McCarthy’s ouster and has hinted at a potential motion to vacate in recent months.

“Doesn’t surprise most of us,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told The Hill when asked whether he was frustrated with Greene’s move. “It just adds to the dysfunction.”

Greene’s gambit raised a series of questions that will dictate if — and when — mutiny ensues in the House.

The first is the matter of timing. Greene said she does not have “a timeline” for when she will trigger a vote on ousting Johnson, telling reporters it would be a “rolling issue that we’ll be judging and making decisions by.”

“I’m not saying that it won’t happen in two weeks, or it won’t happen in a month or who knows when, but I am saying the clock has started,” Greene said. “It’s time for our conference to choose a new Speaker.”

Greene said she is not yet forcing a vote on Johnson’s ouster because she does not want to “throw the House in chaos,” but she said “we started the clock to start the process to elect a new Speaker.”

Then there is the question of how many Republicans will join Greene in her effort. The Georgia Republican said she is “not the only one” in support of ousting Johnson, though others are reluctant to go public.

“I have support on this from others in my conference,” she said, without naming names.

None of her colleagues emerged from the woodworks on Friday.

“She’s upset and she’s concerned, and she has every right to be. We’ve told the American public what we’re gonna do, and we’re not doing it. Frankly, we’re just frustrated by it,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who voted to oust McCarthy in October. But Burchett isn’t ready to back Greene’s resolution, if only because there’s no clear successor to Johnson, who was elected Speaker only after three other GOP nominees failed to win enough support.

“If we did it today — and she understands this — we would put Hakeem [Jeffries (D-N.Y.)] in the Speaker’s chair,” he said.

And finally, the wildcard: Will Democrats try to cut a deal with Johnson to protect him, or will they join the GOP firebrand in toppling the Republican leader, just as they did with McCarthy?

Several Democrats on Friday signaled they would back the Speaker if Greene came for his gavel, but it would come at a price — such as a commitment to consider stalled aid for Ukraine.

The Speaker has said he is in favor of sending additional assistance to Kyiv but has not yet moved on the issue, as he grapples with a conference that has become increasingly opposed to unconditional foreign aid. Some Democrats see Greene’s threat as perhaps a chance to secure Ukraine aid, in return for rescuing Johnson from an internal coup.

“I’ll do whatever helps the caucus’s priorities for our country. This may provide the best shot at getting needed aid to Ukraine,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told The Hill.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), who returned to Capitol Hill last month to succeed former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), told CNN on Friday he would back Johnson if Greene comes for his gavel and said he hopes other Democrats will follow his lead.

“It’s absurd he’s getting kicked for doing the right thing, keeping the government open,” he said. “It has two-thirds support of the Congress, and the idea that he would be kicked out by these jokers is absurd.”

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