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Johnson defeats attempt to end his speakership

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Speaker Mike Johnson beat Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempt to end his speakership.

The House voted overwhelmingly to table the so-called motion to vacate, with 11 Republicans voting to move forward on the attempt, including Greene. But support from a large swath of Democrats helped Johnson defeat it.

It’s still unclear if Greene or other Johnson critics will force another ouster vote before the end of the year. But Wednesday’s vote marks a victory for Johnson, letting him avoid the same fate as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, who was ejected from the speakership in October.

“Hopefully this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined 118th Congress,” Johnson said after Greene’s effort failed. “It’s regrettable.”

Greene’s threat has hovered over the House for more than six weeks, when the Georgia Republican first introduced her resolution but didn’t immediately trigger a vote. Instead, she held it over Johnson’s head as he navigated a controversial spy program and tens of billions of dollars in new Ukraine aid through Congress. He was able to muscle both through with Democratic help, despite fierce opposition from his right flank.

Greene forced her effort to depose Johnson despite the speaker meeting with her on both Monday and Tuesday to hear out her concerns. While Republicans closely watched those sitdowns to see if it could provide an offramp from a floor fight, the Georgia Republican instead made several demands that Johnson did not indicate he would grant, including defunding special counsel Jack Smith and no more Ukraine aid.

When those talks ended without a clear resolution, many GOP lawmakers interpreted Greene’s comments that the ball was in Johnson’s court as a soft retreat from her threats to oust him.

Instead, after leadership moved to cancel Thursday votes and moved to pass a short-term Federal Aviation Administration extension Wednesday afternoon, Republicans began hearing rumors she planned to trigger the ouster vote. Her lengthy speech announcing the move drew boos and heckles from her colleagues.

“This is the uni-party, for the American people watching,” Greene said in response, referring to a term some conservatives use to disparage Republicans who work with Democrats.

Despite broader frustration with Johnson among GOP lawmakers, Greene’s ouster threat failed to gain traction with many of her colleagues. Some publicly warned that it would be a distraction as they fight to hold onto the majority in November, while others warned that it would plunge the conference into chaos without an obvious successor. Johnson also got a hand from former President Donald Trump, who publicly supported him after Greene formally made her ouster threat.

Trump and the Georgia firebrand, who speak often, had a lengthy phone call over the weekend, according to three Republicans familiar with the matter. Trump told her to stand down from the so-called motion to vacate, those people said.

In a social media post after the vote concluded, Trump praised both Greene and Johnson and urged House Republicans to defend the speaker, citing the need to portray unity heading into the November election.

Some of Johnson’s conservative critics have acknowledged that the former president’s support for the GOP leader has helped defang the ouster threat. Greene had hoped that a recent one-week break, when lawmakers returned to their districts, would create a groundswell of new support. But when they returned, only Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) signed on to her effort. A third, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), said that he approved holding the vote but didn’t say where he was on actually ousting Johnson.

Republicans were waiting to see if more of their colleagues would join the jailbreak. Since Democrats were helping Johnson to keep his gavel, it gave some of them an outlet to vent frustrations without actually ending his speakership.

Massie, in particular, promised to reporters that they had substantially more support — which eventually added up to only 11 Republicans willing to move to the actual ouster vote. It’s unclear how many of those would have voted to depose Johnson. Massie asserted that even if the ouster threat failed, the number of rebels voting against him would ultimately send a message to Johnson about his chances of remaining in leadership come January.

“I think the one thing that you come away from this with, even if it fails, is if there are a dozen who vote against him, he’s now a lame-duck speaker,” Massie said. “Because those 12 aren’t going to miraculously decide on Jan. 3 to vote for him.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are warning that they won’t necessarily save Johnson again if he faces another ouster vote. And if Johnson wants to make it tougher to force a vote on deposing a speaker, he would likely need to cut a deal with Democrats. As of now, there’s little indication he’d be willing to do so.

“That is a problem that the Republicans created, and the Republicans need to figure out how to fix it. And then they can come and talk to the Democrats and see how we can help them, but they need to come up with a proposal,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.).

Nicholas Wu contributed reporting.