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Democrats to protect Johnson from motion to vacate

House Democratic leaders announced Tuesday that they will protect Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from a potential conservative coup, all but ensuring the Speaker will keep the gavel through the remainder of the term.

The proclamation from Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) is a remarkable development in the turbulent Speaker saga that’s hobbled the GOP’s governing majority from the earliest days of the 118th Congress — an unprecedented promise by the minority party to prop up an opposing leader for the sake of stabilizing chamber business. 

Their announcement comes as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is threatening to oust Johnson over a series of deals he’s cut with President Biden, most recently on federal spending, government surveillance and aid to Ukraine.

Greene’s resolution, introduced more than a month ago, has been endorsed by only two other GOP Johnson critics — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) — and a number of rank-and-file Democrats have been vowing for months that they would shield the Speaker from an internal revolt if he ushered those bills through the chamber.

The new backing from Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar means not only that those Democrats have political cover to cross the aisle to rescue Johnson, but the numbers will almost certainly swell, insulating the Speaker from Greene’s ouster effort. 

“At this moment, upon completion of our national security work, the time has come to turn the page on this chapter of Pro-Putin Republican obstruction,” the Democratic leaders said in a statement issued shortly after the party met as a caucus. “We will vote to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Motion to Vacate the Chair. If she invokes the motion, it will not succeed.”

For weeks, Greene has declined to force a vote on her motion to vacate resolution, even after Johnson championed the Ukraine aid she opposed. But after the Democratic leaders announced their intent to save Johnson, she moved swiftly with a vow to bring her resolution to the floor. She did not say when.

“If the Democrats want to elect him Speaker (and some Republicans want to support the Democrats’ chosen Speaker), I’ll give them the chance to do it,” Greene wrote on X. 

“I’m a big believer in recorded votes because putting Congress on record allows every American to see the truth and provides transparency to our votes,” she continued. “Americans deserve to see the Uniparty on full display. I’m about to give them their coming out party!”

Democratic leaders made their announcement Tuesday as Johnson and other top Republicans were holding a press conference in the Capitol, catching the Speaker by surprise as he stood at the podium.

“First I’ve heard of it,” he said when asked about his reaction to the Democratic position. “I have to do my job. We have to do what we believe to be the right thing. What the country needs right now is a functioning Congress. They need a Congress that works well, works together, and does not hamper its own ability to solve these problems.”

“And so we saw what happened with the motion to vacate last time, Congress was closed for three weeks, no one can afford for that to happen,” he continued. “So we need people who are serious about the job here to continue to do that job and get it done. So I have to do what I believe is right every day and let the chips fall where they may.”

Johnson rejected the notion that he came to an agreement with Jeffries to pick up Democratic support, telling reporters “there’s no deals at all.”

“I’ve not requested assistance from anyone, I’ve not focused on that at all,” he said. “I’ve focused on getting the job done and getting the legislation passed.”

The Democratic support, however, could put the Republican Speaker in a difficult position, subjecting him to a barrage of conservative messaging that describes him as a GOP leader propped up by liberals.

Johnson brushed off that concern on Tuesday, underscoring the responsibility he has to steer the House amid conflicts across the globe.

“The Speaker of the House serves the whole body,” he said when asked if he would be comfortable serving as Speaker by having Democratic support. “I am a conservative Republican, a life-long conservative Republican, that’s what my philosophy is, that’s what my record is, and we’ll continue to govern on those principles.”

“You hope you have the support of everyone, the entire country. But like I said, I’ve got to do my job and continue to keep my head down,” he continued. This is a very serious time for the country. We’re not playing games here. The world is on fire because of all the things we’ve talked about today. We shouldn’t be playing politics and engaging in the chaos that looks like palace intrigue here. We need to be doing the job that the framers intended for Congress to play and that’s what I’m about, I’ll continue to pursue that every day and we’ll keep the wheels of government functioning.”

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