Speaker Johnson won’t raise bar on motion to vacate rule

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced Thursday that he won’t seek to raise the bar for removing a Speaker from power as part of the current debate over Ukraine aid — a prospect that had sparked an outcry from conservatives earlier in the day.

Under current House rules, any single member of the House can compel a vote on a motion to vacate, but a number of moderate Republicans have pressed Johnson to use the yet-to-be-passed rule governing the foreign aid legislation to raise that threshold.

Johnson, who’s under fire from conservatives over his leadership style and deal-cutting record with Democrats, had reportedly deliberated over that rule change. But after hours of public clamoring and furious threats from the hard-liners, the Speaker announced he would leave the rule as it stands.

“Since the beginning of the 118th Congress, the House rule allowing a Motion to Vacate from a single member has harmed this office and our House majority. Recently, many members have encouraged me to endorse a new rule to raise this threshold. While I understand the importance of that idea, any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have,” Johnson wrote in a post on social platform X.

“We will continue to govern under the existing rules,” he added.

Johnson’s decision to leave the motion-to-vacate threshold as is could earn him some good graces from hard-line conservatives, who were up in arms Thursday morning amid reports that the Speaker was considering a change to the ouster mechanism.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) told reporters Thursday that she would support Johnson’s removal if he went ahead and modified the motion-to-vacate threshold.

“It’s a red line for me, for sure,” she said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who spearheaded the ouster effort against former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last year, suggested he would join those calling for Johnson’s removal if he made a change.

“I think a motion to vacate is something that could put the conference in peril, and Ms. Boebert and I were working to avoid that,” Gaetz said. “Our goal is to avoid a motion to vacate. But we are not going to surrender that accountability tool, particularly in a time when we are seeing America’s interests subjugated to foreign interests abroad.”

Gaetz appeared to welcome Johnson’s decision, writing on X, “The Motion to Vacate was built for speed, not comfort, Mr. Speaker.”

In a statement to The Hill, the Florida Republican said, “I hope his views on this subject aren’t as flexible as his views on single subject spending bills, warrantless spying, or Ukraine.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a frequent Johnson critic who has already introduced a motion to vacate against the Speaker — a resolution that she’s been dangling like a warning over the Ukraine debate — also protested the notion of raising the motion-to-vacate threshold. Marching from the chamber to the Capitol steps, she accused Johnson of conspiring with Democrats to protect his gavel at the expense of Republicans’ policy priorities.

“Kevin McCarthy, while he was staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, he never made a move like this: behind closed doors and made deals with Democrats to change the motion to vacate. And we’re hearing that’s exactly what Mike Johnson is doing,” Greene said. “It’s unprecedented. This has never happened in history. And it’s completely wrong.”

The drama over the motion to vacate this Congress began in January 2023, when conservatives pushed McCarthy to drop the threshold for the ouster mechanism to just one member as a condition for earning their support in his quest for the Speaker’s gavel. Under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a motion to vacate could only be brought if a majority of either party was in support.

McCarthy ultimately gave in to the calls, which helped him earn the gavel but also led to his demise: Gaetz forced a vote on his ouster in October, which was successful.

Since then, moderate Republicans have pushed to raise the threshold. A source familiar told The Hill that the Main Street Caucus had led the current effort to change the rule.

Johnson himself has floated changing the rules surrounding the motion to vacate. During an interview with CNN, he said the mechanism “has been abused in recent times,” adding “maybe, at some point, we change that.”

At the House GOP retreat in West Virginia last month, Johnson told reporters he expects “there will probably be a change” to the motion to vacate rules.

“The motion to vacate is something that comes up a lot amongst members and discussion. … I expect there will probably be a change to that as well. But just so you know, I’ve never advocated for that; I’m not one who’s making it into this issue, because I don’t think it is one for now,” Johnson had said.

“I just think it’s something that a lot of members on both sides of the aisle talk about openly that they have a desire for [a] more normal process on the House floor again,” he continued. “So we’ll be looking at that on the House rules package in our respective caucus and conference packages as well as going to the new Congress. And that’s just something we should do in due course, be good stewards of the institution.”

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