Mutiny brews for Mike Johnson as hard-liners threaten to join motion to oust him over Ukraine aid

The growing anger among Mike Johnson’s Republican caucus over his bill to send aid to Ukraine spilled into public view on Thursday as more conservatives threatened to join a motion to oust the speaker from his role.

Rep Matt Gaetz, a Republican and Donald Trump loyalist known for leading a group of Republican rebels in a successful motion to oust Kevin McCarthy from the House speaker role last year, confirmed to reporters on Thursday that he was considering signing on to the motion to vacate.

The motion was first filed by Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene and has so far only been co-sponsored by one Republican: Rep Thomas Massie.

“I didn’t support [a motion to vacate] when I woke up this morning,” Mr Gaetz told CNN’s Manu Raju in the gaggle.

“And do you support one now?” asked Mr Raju in response.

“We got more time in the day,” quipped Mr Gaetz.

He went on to clarify that he thinks ousting the speaker could “put the conference in peril” but said that he and fellow Republican Lauren Boebert were “working to avoid that”.

But he seemed open to joining the motion if Republicans moved to change the rules for such motions “at a time when we’re seeing America’s interested subjugated” to foreign interests, presumably referring to assistance to Ukraine.

Mr Gaetz’s negotiations (and threats to join Ms Greene’s motion) caused a small confrontation on the House floor on Thursday as Republicans prepared to vote on Friday for a rule that would allow passage of the national security supplemental legislation passed by the Senate as well as two pieces of ride-along legislation. The speaker is facing yet another rule vote rebellion from the far right, but it is looking increasingly as if he may have some support from Democrats to get the legislation past this procedural hurdle.

During the confrontation, Mr Gaetz asked Mr Johnson to pledge not to raise the member threshold required to bring a motion to vacate to the floor, multiple news outlets reported. Mr Johnson said he would not do it.

As the conversation progressed, Minnesota Rep Derrick Van Ordern arrived to defend Mr Johnson and grew angry with Mr Gaetz.

In the ensuing exchange, Mr Van Ordern called Mr Gaetz “tubby” and dared him to bring the motion against the speaker immediately.

Mr Gaetz responded in his gaggle on the House steps, calling Mr Van Ordern “not particularly intelligent” and describing the confrontation as bizarre while playing up his image as peacemaker between the speaker and the two members signed on to the motion to vacate.

“He kept demanding that we file a motion to vacate,” said Mr Gaetz. “The only thing I gleaned from it is that Mr Van Ordern is not a particularly intelligent individual.”

Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert speak to reporters after confronting House Speaker Mike Johnson over passage of military assistance to Ukraine on 18 April (Getty Images)
Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert speak to reporters after confronting House Speaker Mike Johnson over passage of military assistance to Ukraine on 18 April (Getty Images)

He went on to describe his discussion with Mr Johnson as “intense” because “we do not want to pass this bill”, referring to his opposition to military assistance to Ukraine.

A final vote for the supplemental legislation including aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is currently set for Saturday.

The vote is a political gamble for Mr Johnson, who could likely see a motion to vacate the speakership come to the floor if Ukraine aid passes the lower chamber. Democrats have indicated to news outlets including The Independent that they may extend a political life raft to the Republican speaker if that becomes the case.

But such a move may only further a reputation among House conservatives that Mr Johnson is capitulating to their Democratic rivals. As the Ukraine vote approaches, he has been facing increasing criticism from the likes of far-right Republicans in his caucus and others such as Donald Trump Jr.