Will April Be The Cruellest Month For Speaker Mike Johnson?

[ Posted Tuesday, April 9th, 2024 – 15:29 UTC ]

That title (and double-L spelling) comes, of course, from T. S. Eliot's masterpiece poem "The Waste Land," which begins: "April is the cruellest month...." Will this prove to be the case this year for House Speaker Mike Johnson? Will he still be speaker when the May flowers start a-blooming? The answer to those questions might hinge on whether he actually gets anything done this month or not. He's certainly got plenty of things on his plate, and he has actually indicated he's going to move a few of the more critical ones forward -- which (naturally) has absolutely incensed certain members of his caucus. And if he does get them passed, it will further enrage them -- possibly to the point of throwing him overboard.

Johnson hasn't actually held any votes yet (Congress just returned today), and at this point it seems he's only completely incensed one Republican House member: Marjorie "Three-Names" Taylor Greene. Or, as outgoing Republican House member Ken Buck dubbed her in a recent interview, "Moscow Marjorie." But whatever you call her, she is itching to spell trouble for Johnson. She sent a strong signal of this today, in the form of a five-page letter to her GOP House colleagues.

However, since they've been gone awhile, perhaps a recap of where we currently are is in order first. Right before Congress scarpered off on their two-week holiday break, Greene filed a "motion to vacate the chair." This was the same method used to depose the first House speaker in American history, Kevin McCarthy. But Greene didn't file her motion in the manner which would have triggered a vote within 48 hours, she held off on that escalation (with the threat of using it later on). Greene was in a snit because Johnson had actually passed a federal budget without shutting down the government -- and (gasp!) Democrats actually voted for it! That was high treason, to Greene.

So far, she hasn't rallied any of the other hotheads from the Chaos Caucus to her side. That's pretty extraordinary, since they're usually ready to be riled up on such things at the drop of a hat. But after the excruciating three weeks it took to replace McCarthy, maybe they're not willing to go through that nightmare again right in the middle of an election year? Or maybe Greene has just made herself too odious to align with even for the radicals? Your guess is as good as mine, but for the nonce, it seems Johnson has enough backing to continue his speakership.

This all could change, of course. Johnson's "to do" list has several very important issues on it, foremost being the military aid package for Israel and Ukraine that the Senate passed a while back. There is also the issue of the southern border, which most Republicans want to see attached to any foreign military aid bill. Then there's what Johnson is opening with -- a debate on reauthorizing a warrantless surveillance program (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA), which privacy advocates have serious problems with (in both parties, to be fair). Plus, there's a bridge lying on a river bottom in Baltimore that is going to need some federal money to rebuild. Any or all of these things passing could cause more GOP members to consider supporting Greene's "motion to vacate the chair" cause, because (to the Chaos Caucus) getting anything done is a mortal sin.

Johnson's speaker election saga pretty much guaranteed his weakness as a leader, since he had to leave in place the current rules for dethroning a speaker. He didn't have the widespread support within his caucus to change the rules as a condition for taking the job. So he could now be ensnared by the same trap that took McCarthy down.

Except this time around, the margin is even thinner for Johnson. But what has also changed is that Democrats might actually come to Johnson's rescue -- something that McCarthy refused to even consider reaching out for. Democrats could achieve this not by voting to keep Johnson in his job (if the motion to vacate the chair comes up for a vote), but instead merely by not showing up. If enough Democrats play hooky from the vote, then Johnson will stay speaker even if a handful of his own Republicans vote against him. The curve ball in all of this is that the Republican majority is so incredibly thin that there's an outside chance (if, for instance, a handful of Republicans didn't show up for a vote) that the whole thing could wind up electing Democrat Hakeem Jeffries as speaker. But that's the longest of longshots, so it's barely even worth mentioning. The much more likelier outcome is Democrats save Johnson's speakership in exchange for their own demands -- which might wind up being: "fund the Ukrainian military and give Baltimore the money to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge."

Of course, this would likely doom Johnson's entire political career. Today, Greene upped the pressure on Johnson with the scathing five-page letter she sent around to all her fellow Republicans. In it, she denounces him for all his supposed shortcomings as a leader, which already includes (according to her) "a complete and total surrender" to the Democrats. This is about the nastiest thing a Republican can be accused of, these days. Greene didn't exactly mince words in her letter:

[House Speaker] Mike Johnson worked with [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer rather than with us, and gave [President] Joe Biden and the Democrats everything they wanted -- no different from how a Speaker Hakeem Jeffries would have done [sic].

She closes by denouncing her entire party (which she somehow failed to capitalize correctly) if they don't follow her lead as she storms the barricades:

And if these actions by the leader of our conference continue, then we are not a Republican party [sic] -- we are a Uniparty that is hell-bent on remaining on the path of self-inflicted destruction. I will neither support nor take part in any of that, and neither will the people we represent.

Greene is trying to up the ante, obviously. She stands with a pair of scissors ready to cut the thread of her dangling "Sword of Damocles" motion to vacate the chair and bring it crashing down on Johnson's head. Also, (bonus!) she gets her face on television and stirs the Washington media hornet's nest (which is always one of Greene's prime objectives).

If the House does depose Johnson, it will only increase Greene's power and persona as a bomb-throwing radical. If the House avoids deposing Johnson (because Democrats take pity on him and juggle the numbers in the vote so he survives) then Greene and all the other hotheads will accuse Johnson of being a Democrat, or (at best) a "useful idiot" for the Democrats. Either way, his career within the Republican Party may be effectively over. If the Republicans keep control of the House in November, there will doubtlessly be challengers for the speaker's chair next January. If the Republicans lose the House, Johnson will likely lose any leadership role as well. He will join the ever-growing roster of former speakers (John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy) who have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Chaos Caucus is ungovernable (and, incidentally, that the Republican Party should never be put in charge of the chamber ever again). So whether he keeps his title and leadership for the rest of the year or not, April might indeed be "the cruellest month" for Mike Johnson.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Will April Be The Cruellest Month For Speaker Mike Johnson?”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    That title (and double-L spelling) comes, of course, from T. S. Eliot's masterpiece poem "The Waste Land," which begins: "April is the cruellest month...."

    And (silly me) I mistook it for a reference to Cruella de Vil.

    Will this prove to be the case this year for House Speaker Mike Johnson?

    That will depend entirely on whether or not Cruella de Vil is called on by Defendant Donald in need of a deflection from a New York courtroom.

    Will he still be speaker when the May flowers start a-blooming?

    Will he be dog food? :)

  2. [2] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    One of Greene's prime objectives? The only one, surely.

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    If Marjorie does activate her motion to vacate and the Democrats save Johnson, I suppose that won't be good for Johnson's continuing career. It also may not be good for Marjorie's continued relevance.
    By the way, please, in the name of Louisa May Alcott, please don't keep calling her "Three-Names." Are you sure you don't have a middle name? Even if you don't use it professionally, that doesn't make you any less Chris "Three Names" Weigant.

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I agree. I prefer Sporkfoot.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Hey Elizabeth —

    Did you catch the Arizona just jumped into Joe’s pocket for November aka Arizona’s latest Supreme Court decision?

    I doubt that this politically devastating development— for the Repugs — will sooth your hand-wringing self-soiling outlook on November, but our conversations about Ukraine suggest that you don’t always take heed of facts and concepts that challenge your beliefs.

    You were a Biden booster for years — it was bordering on annoying at the time. WHILE Joe thumped Trump and made himself the most transformative President since FDR, you adopted Russian propaganda in favor of appeasement and in ignorance of geopolitical reality (5:11 — you have NO excuse for not daring yourself to even consider because it destroys YOUR appeasement arguments.

    Will you puh-leeze watch the fucking five minute video AND discuss it instead of ignoring it? I’m really tired of reposting this link, K?

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    When you DUCK AND RUN AWAY you are acting like a Trumpanzie.

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:


    Heh. Y'all know her name is actually Empty Greene... a demonstrable reference to her vacant cranium.

    She is batshit crazy.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    The page you linked to up there doesn't exist. I think I've told you about this before.

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