HomePoliticsHouse Speaker Mike Johnson survived a motion to evict. This is...

House Speaker Mike Johnson survived a motion to evict. This is why his job is far from safe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike JohnsonHis job is not yet safe.

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

But while minority Democrats threw the Louisiana congressman a life raft by voting his side, they made it clear they might not do that again. That means the threat to Johnson still remains, as Greene and other lawmakers could table a new motion to impeach him at any time.

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

Here’s what you need to know about how the House can remove a speaker and what’s in store for Johnson:

WHAT IS A MOVEMENT TO LEAVE?

Current rules of the House of Representatives allow any lawmaker – Democrat or Republican – to introduce a resolution declaring the Speaker’s chair vacant. If the House passes the resolution, it will result in the removal of the Speaker from office.

The “motion to vacate” has been around for most of Congress’s history. But it was never successfully deployed until last October, when a rebel group of Republicans joined with Democrats to oust McCarthy as chairman.

McCarthy’s removal stemmed in part from the concessions he had to make to win the gavel in the first place. Among the concessions was agreeing that a motion to evict could be filed by a single member — the threshold that has historically been the norm but was abandoned by the majority Democrats.

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Supporters of allowing one lawmaker to make the motion say it promotes accountability, and point to its long history in the House of Representatives.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

At any time, a member of the House of Representatives may introduce a privileged resolution – a designation that gives it priority over other measures – to declare the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives vacant.

Once the motion is submitted, the lawmaker supporting the motion can request a vote in the House of Representatives. Such a request would force House leaders to take action within two legislative days.

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

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

WHO IS JOHNSON TRYING TO REMOVE AND WHY?

The speaker had fought for months to steer an increasingly divided Republican conference, which has — in fact — only been nominally operating in the majority since January 2023.

Republicans unanimously chose Johnson to replace McCarthy late last year 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 for years had accused McCarthy of being too moderate.

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But Greene, who became a McCarthy ally late in his term, has been skeptical of Johnson’s speakership from the start. While she criticized her fellow far-right colleagues for toppling McCarthy, she had warned Johnson for months that she would try to oust him in a similar fashion if he went ahead with a package to support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion .

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

But Johnson did just that last month when he tabled a foreign aid package for Ukraine, where it was overwhelmingly approved and passed into law.

Other Republicans are also critical of Johnson, including Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who co-sponsored Greene’s resolution to impeach him.

CAN THERE BE ENOUGH VOTES FOR OUST JOHNSON?

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

Without Democratic help, Johnson could easily have been impeached. Eleven Republicans voted to continue Greene’s efforts, more than the number of Republican votes needed to oust McCarthy last fall. Seven Democrats voted present and all but 32 voted with Republicans to block the effort to impeach him.

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

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Asked what they would do if there was another attempt to oust the speaker, Jeffries said: “I haven’t thought about it yet.”

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

He said if they continue to push to oust the speaker, “I think you can expect more of the same: failure.”

IF JOHNSON IS FINISHED, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

According to the rules of the House, the Speaker of the House is obliged to keep a list of persons who can act as speaker pro tempore in the event that a Speaker becomes vacant. The list, which curiously is drawn up at some point by the sitting speaker, remains with the Clerk of the House of Representatives 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 task would be to hold elections for a new speaker. The House would then vote as many times as necessary to elect a speaker.

In McCarthy’s case, the role of speaker pro tem fell to his closest confidant, Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He served in this role for three weeks, until Johnson’s election.

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

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