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Johnson temporarily dodges ouster vote as House passes foreign aid

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Speaker Mike Johnson ultimately succeeded in passing foreign aid Saturday, after months of fierce infighting over sending additional funds to Ukraine.

Whether he can survive a looming effort to boot him from the speakership still remains to be seen.

Johnson had plowed ahead with the votes to send money to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan despite rising conservative anger — passing every part of the foreign aid plan with widespread Democratic help. Some Republicans are openly entertaining the idea of backing the ouster threat led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), but those already backing the effort opted to wait on triggering the vote. Instead, they indicated members should go back home and hear from their constituents.

That could go two ways for Johnson. Tempers could cool as lawmakers return to their districts for a week and focus on their constituents and reelection bids. Or members, particularly in deep-red districts, hear more from an angry base — prompting more members to entertain action against Johnson.

Greene and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, the second Republican to back ousting Johnson, are betting it’s the latter. And they reiterated their promises on Saturday that Johnson will ultimately face a choice: resign or face a referendum.

“The pressure is already building,” Massie said after the slew of votes Saturday. “It’s going to be inevitable, especially now that he’s chosen his path with the Democrats. Like once you go there, it’s hard to go back.”

Despite the intense fury among conservatives, some say they still won’t support the so-called motion to vacate. But if Johnson gets booted and goes for the gavel again, or tries to run to lead the GOP again next term, they said they wouldn’t support his bid.

“I’m so furious,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who took particular issue with House Democrats waving Ukrainian flags on the floor as that aid bill passed. “This whole bill package is an absolute sham and disgusting, and I blame Speaker Mike Johnson for that bill even being on the floor.”

“I will never support Speaker Mike Johnson as speaker again. That’s for certain,” she added.

The vote on Ukraine became so contentious that some Republicans, also taking umbrage with the Ukraine flags on the House floor, started to boo them. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) ran up to a microphone to tell her colleagues across the aisle: “Put those damn flags away.”

In a further sign of rising tensions, lawmakers lingered in the chamber after votes on the foreign aid package closed — anxious to see if Greene or Massie would move to trigger an attempt to oust Johnson or force other protest votes. Members of the House Freedom Caucus also huddled in the center of the chamber following the vote, but ultimately did not call for additional votes.

Johnson, meanwhile, defended his strategy on the foreign funding package after the votes, once again brushing off the threat from members of his right flank to try to strip him of his gavel.

“I don’t walk around this building being worried about motion to vacate. I have to do my job. We did. I’ve done here what I’ve believed to be the right thing,” Johnson said. “You do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may.”

And other GOP colleagues praised Johnson’s bravery, indicating they hope Democrats will show him some goodwill — meaning, help protect his speakership — for ignoring his conservative critics and passing foreign aid.

“I’m so proud of Mike Johnson for being brave and for allowing us to vote on some really important issues today. So I would hope that the Democrats will continue to do the right thing,” said centrist Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.). “We’ve seen him come a long way.”

“To me, it is a true profile in courage to put the interests of the nation above his own — himself and his career,” said Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas), whose bill was among those that passed Saturday. “It was a gutsy call, but he knew it was the right thing. My stock in him went way up.”

Still, Johnson is in a precarious position. If Greene triggers a vote, he will need Democrats to protect him. And even if they do, the GOP rebels could try to oust him multiple times, forcing the minority party to decide if they would continue to save him.

House Democrats didn’t discuss the motion to vacate during their caucus meeting before the vote Saturday, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has indicated they’d meet as a party to discuss a course of action if it comes up. But many Democrats are likely to back Johnson against the ouster threat now that the foreign aid package has sailed through the House.

“I think [Greene] is a paper tiger,” quipped Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

“We did the right thing today and we did it together,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “That’s a good sign for going forward if we continue to do that. We can’t allow a small, willful, nihilistic group to impede the ability of the House of Representatives to do business.”

Other House Republicans, meanwhile, said they aren’t holding their breath on Democratic assistance. They feel they’ve seen this film before with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“I’ve kind of given up on those guys … seems like they’re willing to help the country as long as it doesn’t help the Republicans,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.).

But Johnson will have to rely on at least some Democratic votes, especially with the imminent departure of Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who was slated to resign from Congress on Friday but opted to stay a day later to vote on the foreign aid bills. With Gallagher gone, Johnson can only afford to lose one of his own members on an ouster vote before needing help across the aisle.

Several Republicans haven’t yet said how they would handle such a vote, meaning that the conservative band of rebels could grow before Greene brings up her resolution.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who flirted with trying to oust Johnson earlier this year, declined to say how he would handle an ejection attempt, but didn’t pull punches on Johnson’s handling of the foreign aid package.

“The votes today were a disaster,” he said. “There are a lot of people around the country who are very frustrated with what transpired this week.”

Nicholas Wu and Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.