Senior Democrat says party will save House speaker from ousting – on one condition

A senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has said his party will help prevent the ouster of House Speaker Mike Johnson if the Louisiana Republican allows a defence aid package including humanitarian aid for Gaza to receive an up-or-down vote on the House floor.

Brad Sherman, a California Representative who serves as the second highest-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel, told The Independent Mr Johnson could receive Democratic assistance on a vote to remove him if he ensures that the humanitarian aid provisions remain in the bill he has promised to put to a vote this week.

“We’ve got to pass it and it’s got to include the humanitarian aid,” he said. “I think if he does that, and then there’s a motion to vacate the speakership because he did the right thing, even if he did it in four separate notebooks on unlimited colored papers, the Democrats will not allow it [the motion to vacate] to pass.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Johnson refused to heed calls for his resignation from a far-right colleague after he agreed to allow the House to consider legislation to authorise further military aid to Ukraine along with defence assistance for Israel and Taiwan.

The Louisiana Republican was urged to step down by Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie during a meeting of the House GOP Conference on Tuesday after Mr Johnson said he was putting forth legislation to fund Israeli and Ukrainian defence needs over the objection of members such as Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who weeks ago filed a motion to remove him as Speaker after he allowed the House to vote on funding the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year.

Brad Sherman, left, pictured with fellow Democratic congressman Al Green, said his party could help save the Speaker – as long as Gaza aid was on the table (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Brad Sherman, left, pictured with fellow Democratic congressman Al Green, said his party could help save the Speaker – as long as Gaza aid was on the table (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Massie, a MIT-educated engineer who routinely opposes all government spending bills, said he would co-sponsor Ms Greene’s measure, which would declare Mr Johnson’s office “vacant”. It is the same procedural tactic a group of Republicans used last year to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after he allowed a vote to keep the government funded.

But at a press conference on Tuesday, he dismissed Mr Massie’s demand outright.

“It is, in my view, an absurd notion that someone would bring a vacate motion when we are simply here trying to do our jobs,” he said. “I am not concerned about this, I am going to do my job, and I think that’s what the American people expect of us”.

Mr Sherman’s comment is the first direct sign from a senior Democrat that members of his party are prepared to cross over and vote against Ms Greene’s motion to vacate the speakership under any circumstances. A handful of other Democrats, though none connnected to leadership, have made similar indications in recent days.

But that potential support could quickly evaporate if Mr Johnson fails to bring the entirety of the supplemental foreign aid package to the floor, or allows poison pill amendments to drag the Ukraine funding portion into oblivion. House Democrats voted in lockstep in favour of the motion to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy last fall, declining to save the flagging GOP leader who had burned his credibility with many in the chamber.

Mr Johnson has yet to last one full year in the job, similar to his predecessor. This week, the House is almost entirely focused on foreign policy and is pursuing a series of bills targeting Iran following the drone and missile attack Tehran directed at Israel over the weekend. A final vote for passage of the Ukraine and Israel funding bills is set for Friday.

Before that, the speaker faces one key test: the passage of a rule vote governing debate and procedure for the passage of the entirety of the supplemental funding package. Mr Johnson is likely to see some form of conservative rebellion during that vote this week, as he did last week when Republicans revolted against the renewal of America’s foreign operative surveillance program.