Can Donald Trump Save Speaker Mike Johnson?

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

As Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) stared down the gravest threat yet to his reign over the House GOP, he turned to the one Republican who could potentially save him: Donald Trump.

Flanked by the former president at a Mar-a-Lago press conference on April 12, Johnson sought to send a message to his detractors—particularly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—that Trump stood by him.

In response, Trump tossed him a lifeline.

“I stand with the speaker,” Trump said when asked about the threat Johnson faces.

Nine days later, Johnson’s future is murkier than ever. He’s confronting a full-scale GOP revolt over his push to pass a sweeping Ukraine aid package. Three GOP lawmakers, led by Greene, are already backing a motion to vacate the speakership—the same tool used to boot Kevin McCarthy in October—and they could force a vote on his fate at any time.

Mike Johnson Came to Ukraine’s Aid. Will Democrats Come to His?

Johnson’s detractors were only emboldened on Saturday. After months of dithering, the speaker finally put Ukraine aid on the floor. And while it passed, it narrowly failed to get a majority of Republicans to back it—with 112 Republicans voting against the bill, and 101 voting in favor of it.

“I do not support Mike Johnson,” Greene told reporters on Saturday after the vote. “He’s already a lame duck. If we had the vote today in our conference, he would not be speaker.”

While Trump noted that the motion to vacate has already been used this Congress—further calling the current threat of another motion to vacate “unfortunate”—general commentary on the procedural mechanism might not be enough to save the speaker.

Johnson, who’s long been a loyal Trump soldier, needs his help now more than ever. But there’s a brutal truth for Johnson that’s becoming increasingly clear: Trump isn’t coming to his rescue.

That was the takeaway of two close sources in the former president’s orbit, and it’s becoming clearer by the minute that, if anyone is going to save Johnson, it’s Democrats.

“There were a few of us that were still going to bat for him and defending him,” a source close to Trump told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know a single person that will defend him after this complete and stunning surrender. We’re obviously not going to get everything we want with a slim majority in the House. But there’s not a single thing he can point to in these bills that resembles a Republican win. He got nothing. He got rolled.”

Another Trump source was just as clear: the former president isn’t going to lift another finger.

“Johnson has already gotten everything he should expect to get from Trump,” a Trumpworld source told The Daily Beast. “It’s not Trump’s job to save his ass because he can’t manage his caucus.”

While it’s always possible Trump changes his mind and more aggressively tries to help Johnson, few in Trump’s orbit seem inclined to nudge the former president to bail him out—particularly when Trump is facing his own problems with the start of his criminal trial.

Outside a bodega in Manhattan on Tuesday during a trial break, Trump took a more ominous tone when asked about Johnson’s situation. “Well, we’ll see what happens with that,” he said. “I think he’s a very good person.”

Former president Donald Trump listens as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

Former President Donald Trump listens as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Several Trump-aligned sources suggested the former president’s trial is a complicating factor for any plans to involve himself in Capitol Hill drama. Stuck in Manhattan court four days per week, Trump is having enough difficulty attempting to figure out how to sustain his own presidential campaign, without sticking his neck out for a speaker who just put Ukraine aid on the House floor for a vote.

Some Trump allies in Congress think he should stay far away, focus on his campaign when he’s not attending his trial, and let the House figure itself out.

“I personally think the president should just be focused on what he’s doing and not even be getting caught up with that mess,” one GOP lawmaker close to Trump told The Daily Beast.

Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to Trump, expressed a similar sentiment, noting that Trump “has his hands full in NYC.”

The influential MAGA pundit told The Daily Beast that Trump’s legion of lawmakers would take care of the rest.

“We are heading it up with those patriots in the House,” Bannon told The Daily Beast. “Johnson is [a] dead man walking.”

Notably, even when Trump supported Johnson at Mar-a-Lago, he still declined to criticize Greene for bringing the motion to remove the speaker. And he certainly didn’t call on Greene, one of his closest and most loyal allies, to back down.

But this internecine fighting within the conference isn’t exactly between moderates and hardline conservatives; it’s really between hardline conservatives and Johnson—a staunch Trump ally and a hardline conservative in his own right.

Trump has been a critical force behind Johnson’s rise. When the House GOP was divided in October after ditching McCarthy, Trump endorsed Johnson’s bid for the speakership at a critical time. After several Republicans tried and failed to win over the GOP conference, Trump’s endorsement of Johnson put a swift end to the drama.

MTG Literally Curses Mike Johnson’s Speakership After Ukraine Vote

Of course, Johnson has been staunchly loyal to Trump since the two of them were both first elected in 2016. When Trump refused to concede the 2020 election, Johnson spearheaded legal efforts in Congress to legitimize his false claims of a stolen election. He famously organized Republicans to sign onto an amicus brief in support of a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory.

But for Trump, self-preservation is everything. Few issues currently animate the MAGA base like aid to Ukraine, and the former president strives to never cross his base.

On Thursday, Trump complained on Truth Social about the prospect of Congress sending military aid to Ukraine, revisiting old arguments that European nations need to pay more, though he notably stopped short of saying he opposed the foreign aid bill.

Representatives for Trump and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

While some in the conference continue to turn against Johnson, some members believe Trump should save Johnson for the sake of the Republican Party.

“My hope is that he would step in and would say something and tell these people to quiet down,” another Republican lawmaker told The Daily Beast.

In public, Johnson often makes a point to mention how frequently he speaks with Trump. But he usually declines to delve into the specifics of what they talk about.

Mike Johnson Is Gambling His Speakership on Ukraine. He May Lose.

The speaker’s trip to Mar-a-Lago last week was designed to “show unity” between himself and the presumptive Republican nominee, a senior GOP leadership aide told The Daily Beast. The subject of their joint press conference—“election integrity”—was notable in how clearly it showed Johnson’s willingness to entertain Trump’s conspiracies of a stolen 2020 election in order to remain in his good graces.

The duo introduced legislation that would ban people who are not U.S. citizens from voting in elections—an offense that has already been illegal for decades.

While that was a moment of solidarity, it already seems to have faded with the push to pass foreign aid—something Republican voters are split on, but is loudly opposed by much of the MAGA base.

“How bad is this garbage bill? Chuck Schumer is bragging about how House GOP Leadership is completely folding and giving Dems exactly what they want,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a post on X.

While the former president—and his son—could certainly exacerbate problems for Johnson, the speaker already seems to be counting on Democrats to save him from a GOP motion to vacate the chair.

A handful of Democrats have already indicated they will support Johnson if Greene triggers the motion to vacate.

Even former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tipped her hand that the Democratic Caucus might bail out Johnson.

“The institution really needs to be respected,” Pelosi told The Daily Beast on Saturday. “And if people are doing something wrong, then the chair should be vacated, but if it’s a difference of opinion, that’s democracy.”

Johnson seems to have embraced some tranquility about the whole matter. He said this week that he doesn’t live his life worrying about the motion to vacate, and he was at peace putting Ukraine aid on the floor. He said he was simply doing what he believed was right.

“History judges us for what we do,” Johnson told reporters on Wednesday. “This is a critical time right now in the world state. I can make a selfish decision and do something that is different, but I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.”

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