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Hakeem Jeffries, Mike Johnson
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and most other Democrats voted to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s effort to remove Speaker Mike Johnson. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Democrats Say They Didn’t ‘Save Mike Johnson’

Some progressives were ready to let the speaker lose his gavel. But most Democrats were eager to deny Marjorie Taylor Greene a win.

Democrats insisted after helping to keep Mike Johnson as speaker on Tuesday that it wasn’t about protecting him. It was about vanquishing their shared enemy: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“We did not save Mike Johnson,” House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark told NOTUS. “We’re saying no to Marjorie Taylor Greene and her extremism. She’s a chaos agent, and it is time to end the pro-Putin caucus obstruction on the issue of Ukraine aid.”

The question of saving Johnson has been a no-brainer for House Democratic leadership ever since Greene first threatened to trigger a Johnson ouster over foreign aid. When she announced her motion to vacate, she condemned Johnson and called Congress a “uniparty,” claiming that Johnson had betrayed Republican ideals by passing bills with Democratic support.

Democratic leaders said last week that members of the caucus would vote to table the motion to vacate. And on Tuesday evening, they followed through: 163 Democrats joined 196 Republicans to kill the motion.

Some Democrats said they voted against Johnson’s ouster because of his decision to bring up the foreign aid package.

“I think [Johnson] did the right thing by having the Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel bills brought for separate votes,” Rep. Ro Khanna told NOTUS. “I don’t think that he should be removed for that.”

“I’m going to always support someone who is trying to do the right thing,” Rep. Don Davis told NOTUS.

And Greene’s handling of the entire situation was clearly on Democrats’ minds.

“We have serious business to do, and she has had the press wrapped around her finger for months with her nonsense,” Rep. Becca Balint, who voted to table, said in a text. “[Greene] has no group with her. She is not a leader of a movement within her conference.”

If Greene were to bring on another motion to vacate Johnson, Democrats said they might not make the same choice.

“That was a ticket for one ride only,” Rep. Jamie Raskin said, adding that Democrats have “got our eyes open about Johnson.”

“I think we would reevaluate it in terms of the political context at that moment,” Raskin told reporters.

Not all Democrats were willing to vote to save Johnson this time. Thirty-two Democrats, most of them progressives and some moderates, made for strange bedfellows with Greene’s ultra-right Republican allies by voting to move forward with the ouster. Seven Democrats voted present.

Rep. Judy Chu, who voted present, said she “wanted to make sure that my vote reflected that I wasn’t supporting the man. However, I did not want, of course, for there to be this motion to vacate because I did not want chaos to ensue in the House of Representatives.”

Other Democrats similarly said they couldn’t stomach a vote that would help Johnson. Reps. Jonathan Jackson and Sydney Kamlager-Dove noted Johnson’s involvement in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Kamlager-Dove said she felt “not great” that Democrats saved Johnson.

“My vote was a value vote,” she said in a text. “What was worse was having to listen to MTG.”

“I’m not going to vote to save someone who is actively fighting all the things that I believe in: ending gun violence, abortion, etc.,” Rep. Maxwell Frost said. “So, I personally couldn’t vote to save him, but I understand why people did.”

Even with the motion to vacate over, some progressives still predicted more chaos to come.

The House “is pretty much done with the things we have to do,” Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal told NOTUS. “We’ve gotten through the big things because Democrats stepped up and made them happen. And so, why would we waste our time? Let [Republicans] go into chaos. Let the country see that they don’t know how to govern.”

Calen Razor and Tinashe Chingarande are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows. Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.