Three reasons Mike Johnson’s job is safe — and one reason it might not be

And just like that, after months of dragged out negotiations and false starts, the House of Representatives passed legislation to assist Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The vote showed a stunning about-face for House Speaker Mike Johnson, who as a backbencher opposed aid to Ukraine. Since then, he’s been hailed for standing up to his party — even though he only did so after he’d exhausted all other options. (Readers of Inside Washington may remember I called Johnson a coward a few months ago for refusing to put the Ukraine bill to the floor).

But the vote means Johnson has to consider whether Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing conspiracy theorist and acolyte of Donald Trump, will carry through with her threats and actually topple him from his job. Since filing her motion to vacate last month, Greene has been joined by two other firebrands, Representatives Paul Gosar of Arizona and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

If Greene succeeds, it would be the second time the House has booted a speaker this Congress. But there are plenty of reasons to think that Johnson might hold onto his job — and one big reason why he might be in trouble.

He’s mostly kept his word to Democrats

Representative Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year succeeded not simply because of conservative Republican outrage at McCarthy, but because Democrats joined them.

They did so because McCarthy took every opportunity he could to antagonize them. Indeed, the day after Democrats bailed him out to keep the government open, he proceeded to trash them on Face the Nation to CBS host Margaret Brennan instead of thanking them. McCarthy took various measures simply to poke Democrats in the eye, such as censuring Representative Adam Schiff and removing him and Representative Eric Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee.

Conversely, despite holding a series of partisan stunts like the continued wild goose chase that is the impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden and the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Johnson has largely kept his word to Democrats. He recognizes that he cannot do the basic tasks of governing without Democrats and has acted accordingly, passing continuing resolutions to keep the government open, passing the 12 spending bills to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, and now finally passing aid to Ukraine.

Ironically, Johnson might have done House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries a favour when he split the Ukraine and Israel bills. Doing so meant that Democrats could unanimously support passing Ukraine aid while progressives could express their dissatisfaction with Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. In short, Johnson’s mostly followed through with his promises.

Nobody can replace Johnson

For those with short memories, Johnson almost stumbled into the speakership. His ascent came after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s nomination never went to a floor vote, thanks to conservative objections; Jim Jordan’s three failed floor votes where he actually lost votes before he was bounced in a secret ballot; and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s nomination lasted only a few hours. Johnson emerged as the consensus candidate because he was just MAGA enough to make members like Greene happy and polite enough to placate the more established Republicans.

No such understudy exists now. Johnson was pretty much the only one who fit the bill. Patrick McHenry, who served as speaker pro tempore during October, is heading for the exits. Other “grown-ups” like Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole don’t want the job.

A few months ago, in the midst of the speakership Hunger Games, Representative Troy Nehls of Texas told me, “One of the members said in there: I don’t think the Lord Jesus Himself could get” the required votes. The fact that Johnson prevailed at all was notable. Putting a new speaker in place would require an even bigger miracle.

The math is not on Greene’s side

Since the last motion to vacate, the Republican majority has been whittled down significantly. McCarthy’s resignation and the resignations of Representatives Mike Gallagher, Ken Buck, and Bill Johnson have all contributed to that. The party lost another seat when Democrat Tom Suozzi flipped George Santos’ seat in New York.

Regardless of how much a lot of Republicans may hate Matt Gaetz, he successfully kicked out a speaker and installed a more conservative one. But it seems that even he does not want to take a risk this time. Last week on his Rumble show, he warned that “in a one-seat majority, there could be one or two or three of my colleagues who would take a bribe in one form or another order to deprive the Republicans of a majority at all.” Fellow Republicans Anna Paulina Luna of Florida and Andy Ogles of Tennessee agreed with Gaetz. At this point, holding a new vote is too much of a gamble.


Greene has the hearts and minds of the GOP. She is one of the top grassroots fundraisers within the Republican Party, surpassing even Gaetz and her nemesis Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Much of the base of the party agrees with her. While Trump made comments at Mar a Lago a couple weeks ago in support of Johnson, many of his voters consider aiding Ukraine a sin punishable by metaphorical firing squad.

The House being out for a week gives Greene a chance to make a sustained media campaign and turn the motion to vacate into a conservative litmus test. Couple this with right-wing rage about supporting Ukraine and Johnson has a massive problem.

Still, the odds largely favour the Louisiana Republican. And if the Senate passes his bill unfettered, he will be the rare Republican speaker who stood up to his far-right flank and won.

This article was amended on 22 April 2024. It previously incorrectly said former congressman Brian Higgins of New York was a Republican. He is a Democrat.