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Updated Jan 9, 2024, 8:57pm EST
politicsNorth America

Do not try to boot Johnson, Moderate Republicans warn hardliners

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

With hardline Republicans grumbling about Speaker Mike Johnson’s recent budget deal, some moderates are already issuing a stern warning: Do not even think about attempting to oust him.

“If they try it, they are fucking idiots,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., told Semafor.

Many of the House GOP’s most conservative lawmakers have been openly furious with Johnson since this weekend when he and Senate Majority Leader unveiled a topline spending plan that stuck closely to the terms of last year’s debt ceiling agreement. Members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus had pushed for steeper funding cuts and urged leadership to threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats agreed to reforms on border policy. While it’s unclear just how wide or strong the frustration is, Rep. Chip Roy opened the door to filing a resolution to remove the speaker while on the Steve Deace Show Tuesday.

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“I’m leaving it on the table,” the prominent House Freedom Caucus member said. “I’m not gonna say I’m gonna go file it tomorrow night. I’m not saying I’m not gonna file it tomorrow. I think the speaker needs to know that we’re angry about it.”

Some House members who spoke with Semafor said they doubted that Johnson’s job was in any real peril. “I kind of doubt anyone wants to go through that three-ring circus again,” one member told Semafor, referring to last year’s 3-week long effort to replace toppled Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., one of the eight Republicans who voted to strip McCarthy’s gavel last year, said that while there was talk of trying to jettison Johnson, he personally was “not there yet.”

“I want to see him work on the border,” Burchett added.

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Still, even mentioning the possibility of a repeat speaker battle is enough to set off some of the party’s moderates. “It would be the dumbest move ever and the counter-reaction from the 95% of our conference who want to govern and who know the realities of our Constitutional system and divided government would be fierce,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. told Semafor.

“We just have a few people who think they’re the only people who count and ignore that we have divided government,” Bacon added. “They’d be threatening Moses taking them to the Promised Land.”

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Kadia’s view

There are certainly concerns with Johnson’s leadership style. Some members have privately complained the office was ill-equipped to handle the role of speaker, and Johnson’s lack of experience in a high-level leadership role put him at a disadvantage. Others have begun questioning about his commitment to conservatism, suggesting they may have failed to replace McCarthy with a more right-wing leader.

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But it’s not lost on anyone that the optics around bringing the House to its knees by leaving it speakerless is unproductive and not a winning message for a conference trying desperately to hold on to the majority.

“I think a lot of members would like to see some new leadership, but the group of people willing to set that series of events in motion is tiny,” one senior Republican aide told Semafor. “People don’t want a long drawn-out embarrassing speaker search again.”

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Room for Disagreement

Not all hardliners are prepared to throw down the gauntlet just yet. “Do not!!,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., texted Semafor when asked if he thinks there’s an appetite to remove the speaker. He later told reporters, “I’m not going there. Mike deserves a chance. Mike’s a good man.”

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