House Speaker Mike Johnson survived a motion to vacate. Here’s why his job is far from safe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Johnson’s job isn’t safe yet.

In a stunning show of unity in the often divided House, Democrats joined a majority of Republicans on Wednesday to save the GOP speaker from an attempt by fellow Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to remove him from his post.

But while Democrats in the minority threw the Louisiana congressman a life raft by voting on his side, they made clear they might not do so again. That means the threat for Johnson still lingers as Greene and other lawmakers can at any time call up another motion to oust him.

The episode highlights the increasingly precarious situation for Johnson, who faces the same conservative forces that took down his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, but with an even smaller majority that has forced him to continuously rely on Democratic support to carry out the most basic functions of legislating. Republicans control the House by the barest of margins, 217-213.

Here’s what to know about how the House can remove a speaker and what’s ahead for Johnson:


The current rules of the House allow any lawmaker — Democrat or Republican — to put forward a resolution declaring the speaker’s chair vacant. If the House approves the resolution, it has the effect of ousting the speaker from office.

The “motion to vacate” has existed for most of congressional history. But it had never been deployed successfully until last October when a rebel band of Republicans joined with Democrats to oust McCarthy as speaker.

McCarthy’s removal came, in part, as the result of the concessions he was forced to make to win the speaker’s gavel in the first place. Among the concessions was agreeing that a motion to vacate could be triggered by a single member — the threshold that historically has been the norm, but that had been abandoned by Democrats in the majority.

Proponents of allowing a single lawmaker to file the motion said it promotes accountability, noting its long history in the House.


At any point, a member of the House can introduce a privileged resolution — a designation that gives it priority over other measures — to declare the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives vacant.

Once the motion is introduced, the lawmaker sponsoring it can request a vote on the House floor. Such a request forces House leaders to take action within two legislative days.

But there are procedural motions that members of either party can make to slow or stop the process — and that’s exactly what happened when Greene called for a vote Wednesday on removing Johnson.

The No. 2 House Republican, Steve Scalise, immediately made a motion to “table” Greene’s resolution, which defeats it if successful. The vote to table was fast and overwhelming, with lawmakers voting 359-43 to defeat her effort and keep Johnson in the job.


The speaker had fought for months to navigate an increasingly fractured Republican conference, which has — in effect — been operating in the majority in name only since January 2023.

Republicans unanimously chose Johnson late last year to replace McCarthy after several candidates for the job failed to gain enough support. His conservative bent was seen as a welcome departure by the most extreme members of his party who had accused McCarthy for years of being too moderate.

But Greene, who became a McCarthy ally late in his tenure, has been skeptical of Johnson’s speakership from the beginning. While she criticized her fellow far-right colleagues for toppling McCarthy, she had warned Johnson for months that she would try to remove him in a similar fashion if he were to push ahead with a package to support Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

“He should not bring funding for Ukraine,” Greene had told reporters.

But Johnson did just that last month when he advanced a foreign aid package for Ukraine to the floor where it was overwhelmingly approved and signed into law.

Other Republicans are also critical of Johnson, including Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who was a co-sponsor of Greene’s resolution to oust him.


It remains to be seen, but the vote Wednesday showed Johnson’s job is far from safe.

Without Democratic help, Johnson could have easily been ousted. Eleven Republicans voted to proceed with Greene’s effort, more than the number of GOP votes it took to oust McCarthy last fall. Seven Democrats voted present and all but 32 of the others voted with Republicans to block the effort to oust him.

“Our decision to stop Marjorie Taylor Greene from plunging the country into further chaos is rooted in our commitment to solve problems,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said after the vote.

Asked what they might do if there were another attempt to oust the speaker, Jeffries said, “Haven’t given it a thought.”

Some Republicans are frustrated by the threats to Johnson and were dismissive of Greene. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said of those trying to remove the speaker, “They’re pretty good at getting attention, but they have not been recognized for their ability to get things done.”

He said if they keep pushing to oust the speaker, “I think you can expect more of the same: Failure.”


The speaker of the House, under the rules of the chamber, is required to keep a list of individuals who can act as speaker pro tempore in the event a chair is vacated. The list, which is oddly written by the sitting speaker at any given time, remains with the House clerk and would be made public if the speakership were vacant.

The first person on that list would be named speaker pro tempore and their first order of business would be to hold an election for a new speaker. The House then would vote as many times as it took to elect a speaker.

In the case of McCarthy, the role of speaker pro tem fell to his close confidant Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. He was in the role for three weeks, until Johnson’s election.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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