Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Speaker Johnson search for offramp as vote on his ouster simmers

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., pauses during a news conference amid threats that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, is threatening to oust Johnson from his leadership post, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson and far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene met for a second day at the Capitol on Tuesday, political adversaries trying to engineer an off-ramp from the escalating standoff over her threat for a vote to oust him from office.

The stakes are high for both.

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Republican Johnson is hoping to avoid a politically fraught outcome in which he would keep his job, but only after relying on Democrats who have pledged their support to save him, at least this time.

Greene, a top ally of Donald Trump, faces her own potentially embarrassing setback if her motion to vacate the speaker fizzles, as is expected.

“Right now the ball is in Mike Johnson’s court,” said Greene, R-Ga. “I am so done with words. For me, it’s all about actions.”

In a brazen move, Greene has forced her way to the negotiating table and outlined four demands — including no more funding for Ukraine as it fights Russia and an end to the Justice Department special counsel’s legal cases against the indicted former president, Trump.

Throughout Johnson has tried to portray himself, six months on the job since the ouster of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as in control of the situation, and not beholden to the hard-right forces that have created chaos throughout this session of Congress.

“Look, they’ve been very productive discussions. that’s what I’ll say” Johnson, R-La., said after Tuesday's 90-minute meeting.

Johnson downplayed the idea that there was any deal to be made, saying the meetings are simply part of his open-door policy to hear out the ideas of fellow Republican lawmakers, as is his practice as the new leader.

“It’s not a negotiation,” Johnson said.

But it's clear whether or not Greene proceeds with her plan to call the vote this week — or lets the moment slip away — the threat of removal will trail the speaker's tenure and force him to consider concessions to the far-right forces to keep members satisfied.

Greene said she had “high expectations” the speaker would deliver.

“This is what people all over the country are screaming for,” Greene said Tuesday on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “They want to see this vote.”

Another hardline congressman, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, has joined in the meetings and warned Johnson not to draw out a decision.

"If his plan is to drag this out so the pressure comes off of this, and to drag it out for weeks or days even, without making some movement in our direction, then he would just be far better off to have this vote and get it behind him,” Massie said.

The effort to oust Johnson has been panned by Trump, who gave his nod of support to the speaker, and it has failed to gain traction among Republicans, leaving Greene almost alone with just a few colleagues on her side.

But the demands Greene is making are mostly popular among Republicans and could be difficult for Johnson to ignore. That gives both her and the speaker incentive to embrace a deal — particularly since Trump would almost certainly be supportive.

In a signal of what's to come, Johnson lashed out at the Justice Department's two cases from special prosecutor Jack Smith against Trump — over mishandling classified documents as well as the effort to overturn the 2020 election in the runup to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

Johnson, echoing Greene's claims of sham trials, called the Justice Department cases against Trump “election interference” that “has to stop” as the former president is the party's presumptive nominee in the 2024 race for the White House.

“President Trump has done nothing wrong here,” said Johnson, who led one of the defeated president's legal efforts trying to overturn Biden's 2020 election victory before the bloody Capitol siege.

Johnson said the House will consider the flow of federal funds to the Justice Department and oversight of the special prosecutor's office. “Stay tuned,” he said.

Greene is also demanding that Johnson abide by the Hastert rule, named for another former Republican speaker, that requires leaders to proceed with voting on bills only when they have support from the majority of their members.

Relying on the Hastert rule could have tanked congressional support for Ukraine since the recently approved $61 million foreign aid package did not have backing from most Republicans. It passed with Democratic support.

Greene also wants to insist on federal spending reductions championed by Massie which would require a 1% across-the-board cut if Congress fails to pass the regular appropriation bills by the Sept. 30 deadline for the end of the fiscal year. A similar deal was struck last year, lending support to the idea.

Other Republicans, even if they agree with some of the ideas being proposed, are wary of Johnson making any deals with a select few.

“I don’t have a problem with him listening, but what I will have a problem with, and we had this problem with Speaker McCarthy, is when you start making special special deals and hidden deals, “said Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla. “And then people, not just conservatives, but moderates and everybody else, says where’s my deal?”

But ultra-conservative Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said Greene backing off the motion to vacate for now would be a “a wise move." He said it signals "she’s going to play her best hand and that’s to get what you can get.”

The speaker is working to show he is in control of the House and not being led by Democrats, who are in the minority but have outsized influence because they have provided the votes for much of the consequential issues this Congress.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, has emerged as an empowered speaker-in-waiting, if Democrats win party control in November. He and his leadership team have promised to vote to table Greene's motion, essentially saving Johnson's job.

But Johnson insisted Tuesday he has no interest in relinquishing the gavel any time soon. Even though some Republicans have said he should step aside, Johnson said he intends to continue leading the House Republicans well into next year.

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