Marjorie Taylor Greene’s exercise in vanity has failed — spectacularly

Not even the people we might have expected to go with MTG seem to have the appetite to back her up this time

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Tuesday 30 April 2024 21:18 BST
Marjorie Taylor Greene to trigger motion to vacate Mike Johnson next week

Tuesday should have been the perfect day for Marjorie Taylor Greene to trigger her motion to vacate. It had been more than a week since the House had voted on the foreign aid package that provided assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. That vote allowed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to blast isolationists in the Republican party and gloat at their diminished power. MTG was poised to bite back.

Instead, on Tuesday, Democrats threw House Speaker Mike Johnson a lifeline. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark and Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar all said they would join in a motion to table Greene’s motion, specifically citing the right-wing conspiracy theorist from Georgia as their reason for doing so.

On top of that, many of hellraisers who joined Representative Matt Gaetz’s coup against Kevin McCarthy in October seemed wholly uninterested in knocking a speaker off his perch now. Eli Crane of Arizona told me, “I’m done talking about it right now,” when I pressed him on the issue in Congress. Representative Matt Rosendale of Montana said, “I think about everything that comes before us. [That motion] hasn't come before us, though.” Neither man voted to make McCarthy speaker in January last year, so their staying mum shows the base of the GOP is not ready to jump off with Greene.

Meanwhile, Tim Burchett, the genteel Tennessean whom McCarthy infuriated for mocking his faith, said, “If we take Speaker Johnson out, then we will probably have a Democrat or Hakeem-lite.” Nancy Mace of South Carolina simply told me that she thought, of Greene’s efforts: “Why would you pull this stunt when you know it’s not going to pass?”

Even Jamaal Bowman, the Squad member whom the House Republican majority censured during Johnson’s tenure, told me he would check with his staff but he would likely defer to leadership.

The lack of an appetite to sacrifice Johnson to the MAGA volcano shows how badly Greene’s efforts utterly failed. Indeed, unlike with Gaetz’s grenade, Greene has refused to pull the pin in her motion to vacate, choosing not to make her motion privileged. Doing so would trigger a vote within 48 hours — but of course, she’s loath to do such a thing when it seems so clear that the vote wouldn’t go her way.

The flameout is peculiar. Gaetz’s motion to vacate got Democrats on board and sent the House into chaos. Greene also showed herself to be more of a team player than Gaetz. She supported Kevin McCarthy for speaker from the beginning, voted to raise the debt limit after McCarthy cut a deal with the White House, and opposed Gaetz’s motion to vacate.

Similarly, Greene has more of a justification to get rid of Johnson than McCarthy. Gaetz filed his motion after McCarthy passed only a small stopgap spending bill (though McCarthy would say Gaetz did so for sleazier reasons, which Gaetz strongly denies). But Greene filed her motion after Johnson leaned on Democrats to pass the 12 spending bills to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year.

Greene also has more reason to think Johnson pulled a bait-and-switch. Where McCarthy was happy to change his positions according to what was popular at the time, Johnson is a more strident ideologue — so his collaboration with Democrats on those bills feels like more of a betrayal.

But in the end, Greene’s motion suffered from two major problems: Firstly — and as I’ve written before — unlike McCarthy, Johnson has largely kept his word to Democrats. His decision to put the Ukraine bill on the floor shows he was willing to risk his career to get politics done, while McCarthy did all he could to avoid angering the most extreme voices in his conference. Such a move — which required some bravery — paid dividends for Johnson.

Secondly, Republicans are battle-weary after the three-week imbroglio last year that led to 22 days without a speaker. With campaign season approaching and Congress done with most of its big-ticket items, members of the party have little appetite to go through it all again. Or, as Mace told me, “Hell no, I’m still getting over the first one.”

Similarly, while Gaetz may be beloved by the base and hated by Democrats, Greene is a far more visible force and a much bigger lightning-rod. That means Republicans don’t necessarily want to be tied to her in the minds of the public while an election looms.

Despite the fact that many conservatives don’t like how Johnson leads the House, we now know Greene’s motion is likely going nowhere. It’s easier to see her motion as an exercise in vanity to promote herself, rather than to enact any substantive change.

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