House speaker won’t back change to rule allowing single member to call for ouster

Washington — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Thursday he wouldn’t back a change to the rule that allows a single member to force a vote on whether to oust the speaker, even though he said the threshold “has harmed this office” and the Republican majority. 

“Recently, many members have encouraged me to endorse a new rule to raise this threshold,” the Louisiana Republican said in a statement. “While I understand the importance of that idea, any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have. We will continue to govern under the existing rules.” 

Currently, a single member can force a floor vote on the motion to vacate, which was part of a deal former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California made with hardliners in January 2023 in order to win the gavel. Republicans floated changing the rules after the deal ultimately led to McCarthy’s downfall in October, though nothing came of the effort because as he said in his statement, he does not have the majority necessary to approve the rule change.

Upset by a number of his decisions made in his six months as speaker, including bringing up foreign aid to Ukraine for a vote and working with Democrats to pass major legislation, conservative lawmakers have threatened to force a snap referendum on Johnson. 

Changing the threshold would have further enraged conservatives. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican spearheading the effort against Johnson, earlier Thursday lashed out at the speaker amid reports that he was considering changing the rules. 

“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,” she said. “This is the type of betrayal that Republican voters are absolutely fed up with.” 

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, said some conservatives had sought assurances from Johnson that he would not insert language into the text of the rule for the four-part foreign aid legislation that the House is expected to vote on this weekend that would make it harder to oust him. 

“We did not get the answer that we wanted,” Gaetz said earlier Thursday. “He was equivocating.” 

Gaetz, who triggered the vote against McCarthy, conceded that a motion to vacate could put the conference “in peril,” but “we are not going to surrender that accountability tool.” 

Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, said increasing the threshold would convince her to support Johnson’s removal. 

“It’s my red line now, and I told him there’s nothing that will get you to a motion to vacate faster than changing the threshold,” she said. 

Ellis Kim, Laura Garrison and Nikole Killion contributed reporting. 

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