‘Not fair to Mike Johnson’: GOP colleagues strike back at hardliners

Conservatives have made it abundantly clear they detest Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to work with Democrats. To other Republicans, it’s a necessary evil — specifically because of those hardliner colleagues.

Many centrist Republicans said on Friday that Johnson has been left with no other choice, given threats to his speakership and unwieldy demands for border security language that could never pass the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden.

“We’re asking the impossible,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said in an interview. “And that’s not fair to Mike Johnson. It wasn’t fair to Kevin McCarthy. It’s not fair to anybody.”

“We’ve got a group of members who refuse to allow the floor to function. And, obviously, the speaker’s to be commended for finding a way forward,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) in an interview. “We can worry about the political crap later.”

To be sure, Johnson’s now broken nearly every congressional norm in his reliance on Democrats to tee up a package of foreign aid to benefit Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, among other priorities. More Democrats (165) than Republicans (151) supported the rule, a stunning development for longtime Hill watchers. (More on that below.)

But it was a common refrain from the conference’s governing wing: conservatives gave the speaker no viable alternative — especially now that Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) are explicitly threatening his gavel.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said Johnson’s been challenged like no speaker before him.

“Mike Johnson deserves better support, but I for one am just very, very proud of what we would all refer to as a profile in courage in the face of these kinds of threats,” he said.

Still, that’s not to say Johnson won’t face consequences for the severe break, as conservatives have just started to air their fury. Most lawmakers were unwilling to speculate how that would affect the speaker long term.

“It never helps when we pass something that’s not conservative,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chair of the Republican Study Committee, told us.

“Mike Johnson is a friend of mine. He’s a brother in Christ. Love him to death. I don’t agree with his play calls,” said Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), one of the more mild criticisms we’ve heard about Johnson recently.

It’s not a unanimous position, though. Freedom Caucus co-founder Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), for example, supported the rule.

And some centrists went even further. They didn’t just blame conservatives for forcing Johnson’s hand — they explicitly said any sort of deal or extra power that went to Democrats from now on was hardliners’ fault.

“It’s not good enough that they can just vote no,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents a swing seat carried by Biden. “It’s like they have to force all the rest of us to vote a certain way or they will take the ship down.”

Jordain Carney contributed.