How Greene’s bid to topple Johnson could blow up the House — or in her own face

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s bid to vote on firing Speaker Mike Johnson risks throwing the House back into leaderless paralysis for the second time in six months.

But it also holds real peril for the frustrated conservatives whom she claims to represent — with some worried she could possibly push Johnson into working with Democrats on Ukraine aid.

The Georgia Republican last week introduced a resolution ousting Johnson that she hasn’t said when she will force a vote on, portraying it as an early warning to the speaker after he pushed through a government funding deal that his right flank loathed. Should Greene decide to tee up that vote later next month, after Johnson’s margin shrinks to just one vote, she might need only a single colleague on her side in order to fire him — so long as Democrats unite against saving his job.

“You should take her very seriously,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker last year but said he “isn’t there yet” on joining Greene’s anti-Johnson push.

“Marjorie is playing chess, not checkers. She’s looking at the long game, and she’s holding all the cards on this one,” Burchett added. “And I think it’s an attempt on her part to move the Republican party to a more conservative area — where our base is.”

Yet as Johnson increasingly looks to Democrats to help pass major bills, including a $1.2 trillion spending plan that most of his conference opposed, Greene’s latest chess move could backfire spectacularly. There’s no guarantee any Republicans will join her in ousting Johnson, since even many conservatives are disinterested in firing another speaker. Still, some haven’t ruled it out — and Johnson has no room to maneuver in his thin majority.

So the speaker could end up answering her threat by giving Democrats floor time for Ukraine, as the Louisiana Republican actively decides a path forward on the foreign aid package. That may well be enough to lock in a few Democratic votes for saving his job.

One House Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly, summed up the fear: Greene’s move could “deliver aid to Ukraine” by giving Johnson no choice but to seek common cause with Democrats. “Wouldn’t that be rich,” that member added sarcastically.

Interviews with more than a dozen GOP members and aides point to a clear division between Johnson’s allies and his critics on the right. The speaker’s supporters dismiss Greene, arguing that there’s little appetite within the conference to relive another divisive leadership fight that would plunge the House into chaos during an election year.

A smaller number of conservatives, like Burchett, warn that Greene’s move poses real danger to Johnson as he approaches two big policy fights next month — one on foreign aid and the other on renewing contentious government spy powers. Both of those issues promise to drive a wedge through the already fractured GOP conference.

But for now, even some of the Republican rebels who had no qualms about ousting McCarthy are swatting down Greene.

“She’s on the McCarthy revenge tour,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the eight GOP lawmakers who voted to remove McCarthy, said at a campaign stop Tuesday. “We don’t talk about removing the speaker. We’re trying to influence him to do the right thing.”

Another House Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly about Greene, described her Johnson ouster push as “the narcissist wanting more attention.”

Besides Good, five of the other six Republicans currently in office who booted McCarthy from the speakership are either presently opposed to or holding out on any moves against Johnson.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a chief McCarthy foe, recalled during the campaign event with Good that he had told Johnson he’s “increasingly disappointed in his performance as speaker.” But, Biggs added of ousting the Louisianan, “I don’t think it’s going to happen, regardless of whether we want it to.”

Greene, however, has claimed she has silent supporters. Conservatives have soured on Johnson’s leadership in growing numbers, believing he’s either getting bad advice or that he isn’t willing to fight for their priorities the way they’d hoped when they helped elect him.

Johnson’s relationship with his right flank is notably different from McCarthy’s, however, which could help his chances of survival. Several hardliners have said they saw McCarthy as willing to lie to them — unlike Johnson, whom they generally like as a person.

And much of the private chatter from Johnson’s biggest critics has focused on next year’s leadership slate, including floating speaker alternatives if the GOP holds the majority in November.

Still, some could be staying strategically quiet to see how Johnson navigates the foreign aid debate in particular. The Georgia firebrand moved up her own timetable for filing a so-called motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, at first saying she would do so if Johnson took up a Ukraine bill — and then moving her goalposts after the spending deal passed.

Once Greene seeks to attach “privilege” to her resolution ousting Johnson, should she make good on her vow last week to do so, GOP leaders will have 48 legislative hours to bring it up on the floor. Greene has declined to say when she will trigger a vote, saying that she wants to give her conference time to come up with alternatives and avoid the weeks of chaos that followed McCarthy’s ouster.

But whenever that might happen, Johnson could get help from Democrats, who refused to lend the same hand to McCarthy.

That’s because, while the conservative speaker doesn’t have much ideological overlap with Democrats, a sizable number of people in the House minority are loath to repeat the frenetic vacuum of the post-McCarthy period. Some in the party are also watching what Johnson does with the long-awaited foreign aid package and are likely to vote to protect him if it gets a floor vote.

‘We’re going to get a Republican speaker anyway. And I figure, why would you want to go through that nightmare we went through before because they can’t get their act together?” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). He urged Republicans to change the one-person threshold to force a vote on ousting the speaker, because it is “affecting all of us.”

Yet Peters’ prediction that the House will keep a Republican speaker regardless isn’t ironclad. And House Democrats are unlikely to get ahead of their own leaders on an anti-Johnson vote; the caucus is expected to hold a conversation before deciding on any course of action.

If Democrats hang together and withhold any support from Johnson after his margin shrinks to one vote, Greene’s push could even result in a speaker from their party or a coalition government.

It’s an outcome clearly identified by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who was initially noncommittal about Greene’s effort before ruling out a Johnson ouster.

“I don’t agree with what Marjorie did. We got a one-seat majority … If you want to put [House Minority Leader] Hakeem Jeffries in, then do just what she’s doing,” Norman said in an interview.

Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.