Democrats could save Mike Johnson's job. Will their support drive Republicans away from the speaker?

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WASHINGTON – House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is continuing to draw heat from ultraconservative lawmakers, dialing up the pressure as he faces a threat to remove him from his post. The speaker's saving grace, however, is that Democrats appear ready to come to his rescue.

But if a Republican speaker is saved by Democrats, that raises the question: Will their support only make his fellow Republicans angrier?

One of the speaker’s chief antagonists, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who became the second lawmaker to publicly call on Johnson to resign or face a vote of no confidence, seems to think so.

“He becomes toxic to America. It’s not tenable. It’s not a sustainable solution,” Massie said Thursday.

“How do you raise money and invigorate the base when you’re a corpse propped up by Democrats?” Massie added.

The Kentucky lawmaker also predicted that other GOP lawmakers would struggle to support a speaker alongside Democrats, estimating that “for every Democrat who crosses the aisle to help him, he loses three Republicans.”

Massie and conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., are the only Republicans so far to publicly call for Johnson’s ouster, but momentum is only growing from the hard right.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the ringleader behind the removal of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-La., was previously guarded about removing Johnson. But he suggested he was open to the move on Thursday morning after conservatives discovered GOP leaders were considering changing House rules to make it more difficult for a speaker to be booted.

“My hope was that the motion to vacate would be an elixir that only required one dose for effectiveness. But sometimes, there are some therapies that require more than one dose. And I hope that’s not the case with the motion to vacate, but we’ll administer that elixir as many times as necessary to save the country,” Gaetz said, referencing the procedural move that can be used to remove speakers.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., returns to his office from the House Chamber follow the last votes of the day at the U.S. Capitol on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., returns to his office from the House Chamber follow the last votes of the day at the U.S. Capitol on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Democrats have signaled they were willing to save Johnson from an ouster threat for putting Ukraine aid up for a vote. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that “Massie wants the world to burn, I won’t stand by and watch. I have a bucket of water.”

But multiple House Republicans who spoke to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, expressed doubts about the prospects of Democrats supporting Johnson.

“Even if he survives, how long?” one House Republican wondered, expressing skepticism that Republican voters could support Johnson. “I don’t think the public would accept that.”

Another House Republican said Johnson has lost more ground with conservatives than his predecessor, saying “McCarthy was vacated for far less.”

That Republican said it wasn’t a question of whether there would be enough GOP votes to remove him or whether Democrats would save him, but just whether Johnson would accept that help, or take the step of resigning instead.

It's a conundrum for Johnson's speakership: If the Republican leader accepts Democratic support to keep his job, his days could be numbered anyway. Massie warned that Johnson's critics could simply force more votes to remove Johnson if he stays in power, incensed by his willingness to work with Democrats.

When asked if Johnson would reach out to Democrats and ask for their support, the speaker responded that he “had not asked a single Democrat to get involved in that at all.”

“I do not spend time walking around thinking about the motion to vacate. I have a job to do here and I’m going to do the job regardless of personal consequences,” Johnson said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats could save Mike Johnson's job – and drive Republicans away