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House votes down Marjorie Taylor Greene's motion to vacate Speaker of the House

Heather Cox Richardson

May 9, 2024

Last night, 163 Democratic representatives joined 196 Republicans to stop far-right Republicans from removing House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA). Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene led the effort to remove Johnson, but her motion received only 43 votes: 32 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Twenty-eight representatives either did not vote or voted present. 

Greene promptly excoriated the “uniparty,” saying that “the Democrats now control Speaker Johnson. That was something that everybody’s suspected all along. They just voted to save him.” 

But the majority of the House Republican conference appears to be tired of the chaos in their ranks that has made this Congress one of the least productive in American history. Jordain Carney and Olivia Beavers of Politico reported today that House Republicans who are not aligned with Greene and her cohort want to change House rules to create punishments for the extremists who keep stopping House business by, for example, voting against letting bills come to the floor of the House. 

Greene and Thomas Massie (R-KY), her main ally in trying to oust Johnson, urged their colleagues to bring it on. Massie said that anyone trying to stop them was going to “take an ass-whooping from their base.” 

Since the 1990s, right-wing media hosts have directed the Republican base, telling them what to think and urging them to put pressure on Republican lawmakers to do what the media hosts wanted. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh was so influential in the 1990s that when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1995 for the first time since 1954, they made him an honorary member of their incoming congressional freshman class. And what Limbaugh did for radio, Fox News Channel hosts like Bill O’Reilly did for television. 

But Limbaugh died in February 2021, and after the Fox News Channel (FNC) had to pay a $787 million settlement to Dominion Voting Systems for the lies the network’s hosts told about the company’s voting machines in the 2020 election, it let go of main host Tucker Carlson. There are indications that FNC founder and former chair Rupert Murdoch hoped to center Republican messaging around young activist Charlie Kirk, but Kirk has slid into MAGA extremism, too. 

The Republican extremists no longer have a centralized messaging center. Instead, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted today, Murdoch’s outlets themselves—the Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post—stood behind Johnson. 

Yesterday, FreedomWorks, the right-wing organization that was backed by the Koch family at its start in 2004 and that was behind the Tea Party movement, abruptly shut down. FreedomWorks attacked Democratic measures for business regulation and social welfare because it embraced libertarian principles. Its revenue had dropped by half since 2022, its president, Adam Brandon, told Luke Mullins of Politico. But in the end, what did the organization in was the party’s split over Trump.

That split was crystal clear in Tuesday’s Republican primary election in Indiana. Trump won that election, but with only 78.3% of the vote. Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who suspended her campaign in early March and has not campaigned since, won 21.7%. 

Before the Indiana primary, on May 2 political statistician Tom Bonier debunked the idea that Haley’s support came from Democratic-leaning voters flooding the primary vote to hurt Trump. Crunching the numbers in North Carolina showed that Haley voters there “were not substantially younger than the GOP voters (41% over 65 vs 45% among reg[istered Republicans]). They were overwhelmingly white (94% of Ind[ependent]s vs 97% of [Republicans]), and were actually more likely to be men (51% of Ind[ependent Republican] primary voters vs 50% of [Republicans]).” In short, he wrote, “[e]very indicator suggests these Independents voting in [Republican] primaries are more likely [Republican] voters. They just don't like Trump.” 

Political commentator Chris Cillizza today called attention to the numbers that landed before Tuesday. On March 12, Haley won 13.2% of the vote in Georgia (or 78,000 votes). On March 19 she won 17.8% of the vote in Arizona (111,000 votes), 3.9% of the vote in Florida (155,000 votes), and 14.4% of the vote in Ohio (161,000 votes). On April 2 she won 12.8% of the votes in Wisconsin (77,000 votes). And on April 23, Haley won 16.6% of the votes in Pennsylvania (158,000 votes). 

If Biden picks up even one in five of these votes, Cillizza noted, “it matters bigly.”

Three high-level Republicans this week told media they would not vote for Trump, helping to pave an off-ramp for other Republicans. Former House speaker Paul Ryan told Yahoo Finance that he would write in another Republican rather than vote for Trump. “Character is too important to me,” he said.

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, also cited character when she said she would not vote for Trump. “I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life, but I would absolutely consider voting for Joe Biden this upcoming November because he will not seek to destroy our nation [or] our Constitution, and he has the statesman character that we need in an elected official.”

Georgia’s former lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan went further on Monday night, endorsing Biden, whom he had called in an op-ed a “decent person I disagree with on policy,” over Trump, whom he described as “a criminal defendant without a moral compass.” “Sometimes the best way to learn your lesson is to get beat, and Donald Trump needs to get beat. We need to move on as a party. We need to move on as a country,” he said.

Meanwhile, as Khaya Himmelman noted in Talking Points Memo, MAGA Republicans are already blaming a potential loss in 2024 on illegal voters. On Wednesday, Speaker Johnson and other Trump Republicans held a press conference to promote their new bill to make it illegal for people who are not U.S. citizens to vote in federal elections.

This is a political stunt: It is already illegal for noncitizens to vote in federal elections, and there is no evidence that this is happening. In 2017, Trump created a commission to root out the illegal voting he claimed had affected the 2016 election; less than a year later, he disbanded it when it could find no evidence of his claims. Johnson admitted there was no evidence of voting by undocumented immigrants when he told reporters: "We all know, intuitively, that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections. But it's not been something that is easily provable. We don't have that number." 

Pulitzer Prize–winning author T.J. Stiles retorted: “People terrified of contact with government because they don’t want their lives destroyed by deportation don’t register to vote illegally and then vote illegally for the reward of having a tiny tiny influence on federal electoral outcomes.”

For his part, Trump appears to have tried a more direct approach to reelection. According to Josh Dawsey and Maxine Joselow of the Washington Post, last month at Mar-a-Lago, Trump told about two dozen top oil executives that if they gave him $1 billion to get reelected, he would immediately reverse the environmental regulations the Biden-Harris administration has put into place and stop any new ones. A $1 billion gift would be a “deal,” according to Trump, because the tax cuts he plans to enact and the regulatory cuts would be worth far more than that. Since then, Ben Lefebvre wrote yesterday in Politico, oil executives have been drawing up executive orders that Trump can sign as soon as he takes office. 

Yesterday, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, President Biden said the U.S. would continue to supply defensive weapons to support the Iron Dome over Israel, but it would not send offensive weapons to Israel if it went forward with its controversial invasion of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians have taken shelter from Israeli strikes. The administration has publicly opposed that invasion since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced it. “If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah,” Biden said. “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers.”

Trump and other Republicans promptly accused President Joe Biden of “taking the side of these terrorists, just like he has sided with the Radical Mobs taking over our college campuses.”

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security,” Biden told Burnett.  “We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas.”


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