Massie's Move To Fire Speaker Mike Johnson Is About More Than Ukraine Spending

Congressman Thomas Massie speaks to press
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
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The clock might be ticking on Speaker of the House Mike Johnson's (R–La.) tenure.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) announced Tuesday that he would support Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R–Ga.) attempt to unseat Johnson, meaning that her motion to vacate the speakership could move to the House floor at any time in the coming days. In a post on X, Massie advised Johnson to announce his resignation in order to avoid a messy battle over picking a replacement—like the one that left the House in limbo for weeks last year after Kevin McCarthy was fired from the top job.

In a subsequent post, Massie clarified that his decision to support Johnson's ouster was not due to any single issue. "This camel has a pallet of bricks," he wrote.

Greene initially filed her motion to vacate the speakership last month after the House approved a $1.2 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. In recent days, Johnson has faced more criticism from his own party after the House narrowly voted down an amendment that would have required law enforcement agencies to seek warrants before using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 database to spy on Americans' electronic communications. He's also facing opposition over plans to have the House vote this week on a $95 billion package that would send military aid to Ukraine and Israel.

In remarks to Reason last year, Massie predicted that whoever replaced McCarthy (whose ouster Massie did not support) would likely steer the House in a direction he did not like. "We're going to get the Schumer-McConnell special," he said at the time, predicting that a divided House would leave Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) with the upper hand on key policy clashes.

On Tuesday, Massie reiterated that concern. "We are steering everything toward what Chuck Schumer wants," he said. "If the country likes Chuck Schumer, then the country should like what Speaker Johnson has accomplished in the House."

Johnson has refused to resign."It is, in my view an absurd notion that someone would bring a vacate motion. We're simply here trying to do our job. It is not helpful," Johnson said during a press conference Tuesday.

It's not clear that growing Republican discontent with Johnson will be enough to give him the boot, however. Democrats voted unanimously to oust McCarthy last year, but there are indications that at least some would be willing to save Johnson. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D–N.Y.) penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this week urging his fellow Democrats to "support Speaker Johnson" in order to keep military assistance flowing to Ukraine.

What is becoming more clear is the House isn't really operating like a two-party legislature at the moment. Johnson is, effectively, leading an unofficial coalition government that includes the bulk of the nominal Republican caucus and a sizable chunk of the centrist Democrats, a group that includes Suozzi (who won a longtime Republican district in a special election earlier this year). The coalition nature of the House also explains recent votes on the budget package and the FISA reauthorization, both of which passed with a mix of Republican and Democratic votes. A similar outcome would be expected if the Ukraine and Israel military aid bills make it to the floor this week.

The House's "governing majority (the Democrats plus Republicans who vote to pass the spending bills) continues to diverge from the procedural majority (the narrow Republican majority that selected the speaker)," is how a trio of political scientists explained the dynamic in a piece for Politico earlier this month.

If Greene, Massie, and their allies move to oust Johnson this week, it will be a test of the strength of the unofficial coalition that now governs the chamber. This is a fight over the House leadership and the fate of the military aid to Ukraine and Israel, but it's really the next phase in an ongoing struggle to determine how Congress will operate in an era when political parties have been weakened and electoral majorities are slim.

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