US House Speaker Johnson survives ouster attempt, but future uncertain

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 5:07 AM

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson wakes up on Thursday having survived an attempt to push him out, but he still faces an uncertain future as leader of a Republican caucus locked in civil war.

Johnson was a little-known member of the House of Representatives until October, when he emerged from the bruising leadership fight that followed his predecessor’s ouster in the powerful role of top Republican in Congress and second in line to the presidency behind the vice president.

He survived an attempt by hardline Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene on Wednesday to remove him as speaker, with the support of most of his party’s 217-213 House majority and from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Many Democrats also voted for Johnson to avoid a replay of October’s chaos.

Since winning the speaker’s gavel, Johnson has dropped the narrow views of a relatively untried congressman from northwest Louisiana, serving his fourth term in the House, and embraced the political realities of national leadership. That evolution has angered enough party hardliners to seriously diminish his chances of remaining Republican House leader next year, regardless of whether the party holds its majority in the Nov. 5 election.

“I’m proud to serve in this position. It’s not one that I aspired to. It’s not one that I ever expected to have or planned for,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s vote. “But it is the honor of my life and career to do this, and I will do it so long as this body will have me do that.”

When he won the speaker’s gavel last October, the 52-year-old was viewed as a likeable but inexperienced candidate with no political enemies, who opposed U.S. aid to Ukraine, favored strict border restrictions and brought a strong Christian conservative record to culture war issues such as abortion.

He had also played a leading role in House Republican objections to 2020 presidential election results following Trump’s false claims that he lost to Democratic President Joe Biden because of voter fraud. Those claims, and the support they drew from Republicans in Congress, led to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.


As speaker, Johnson has come to rely on Democrats to help him avoid government shutdowns, safeguard U.S. efforts against terrorism, aid Ukraine’s struggle against Russian invasion – and now, save his job.

“He learned there was another side of the story. That’s what leaders do. They’re not dug in on their positions,” said Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican centrist from Pennsylvania.

Johnson spent hours in closed-door meetings this week listening to demands from Greene and her hardline ally Representative Thomas Massie, and later told reporters that the meetings were part of his open-door strategy to keep the Republican conference together by spending “endless hours” talking to members.

“It takes a lot of time. This is why I don’t get enough sleep these days,” Johnson said.

“You have to quite literally get everyone to work together,” he added. “I take Marjorie’s ideas and Thomas’ and everybody else’s, and we assess them on their own value.”

Johnson’s performance on spending bills and aid to U.S. allies has won him positive reviews from Republicans as well as some Democrats, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Some Republicans say his stature as a party leader has been undercut by support from Democrats, who relished the chance last year to eject former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was known for his fundraising prowess and political acumen.

“He’s a better speaker for them than some of the other options, not because he’s willing to work with them, but because you can outflank him,” said one House Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This Republican lawmaker, who voted to protect Johnson’s job this week, said Democrats view Johnson’s underlying conservative credentials as a plus for November – a point underscored by progressive Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“Mike Johnson is still a dangerous leader who seeks to strip abortion rights and who also supported overturning the election and setting the stage for Jan. 6,” she told reporters.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)