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Mike Johnson: The wartime Speaker battling on multiple fronts

by John Jefferson
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“I regard myself as a wartime Speaker,” declared House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

Only, we’re not sure if Johnson was referring to the internecine war among Republicans over whether he should keep his job.

Many members wear pocket squares with their suits. But not Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. He walks around with a self-made, diode “debt clock” tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket, tracking the skyrocketing debt. Massie’s ascending fiscal chronometer may have read more $34 trillion dollars this week. But the only number which mattered on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning was “two.” As in two House members who were ready to oust Johnson from his job: Massie and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. 

“The motion (to remove Johnson) will get called. And then he’s going to lose more votes than (former House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., And I told him this in private, like two weeks ago,” said Massie. 


A reporter asked Massie about what that meant, not having a leader – again – for the second time in less than a year. 

“Some would say we’d be rudderless. But we have a rudder. We’re steering everything toward (Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,” replied Massie. “There has not been a change. I mean, if the country likes Chuck Schumer, then they should like what Speaker Johnson’s accomplished in the House.” 

There’s strength in numbers – even if the numbers are low. After all, it’s about the math. It matters even more in a House which is currently split at 218 Republicans to 213 Democrats. That meager Republican majority shrivels to 217-213 after Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., quits. Gallagher was supposed to leave Friday. But Fox is told that the Wisconsin Republican will at least hang around until Saturday as the House tries to approve the international aid supplemental package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. 

Greene beamed at the support from Massie for her effort to remove Johnson.

“It was significant,” said Greene of Massie’s backing. “It also lets people know this is a lot more serious than people realized.”

Greene echoed Massie, suggesting “there’ll be more” Republicans who might vote to remove Johnson “than were against Kevin McCarthy.” 

Here’s the problem for Greene. She doesn’t have someone who could win a Speaker’s vote on the floor. That’s why the House burned 22 days on the calendar last October and thrashed through three nominees for Speaker before finally settling on Johnson. If the House approved a “motion to vacate the chair” (a “MTV,” which removes the Speaker), there’s no telling how long it would take the get a successor this time.

“I don’t think that the threat is really real at this point, just because you don’t have an alternative,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who was a top lieutenant to McCarthy. “We saw what happened last fall when this all went down. There’s not an alternative.”


Graves said a number of conservatives who were mad at Johnson “don’t think past step one. Which is why we have so many problems here right now.” 

Graves asserted that the “painful scars” of the McCarthy debacle would be “a major disincentive for folks who actually pull the trigger on a motion to vacate.”

There was significant blowback from conservatives after Johnson announced a four-pronged approach to grapple with the Middle East. Especially after the House plotted a course for the week of 17 bills dealing either with Israel or Iran. Johnson tailored his pitch on the foreign aid measure. He planned one bill for Israel. One for Ukraine. One for Taiwan. The final bill would include a plan to repossess Russian assets and grant some of the assistance to Ukraine as a “lease.” That’s an option endorsed by former President Trump. But the sweetener to the fourth bill would be a measure to curb the use of TikTok in the U.S.

The House would then package the four bills together and send them to the Senate.

Speaker Mike Johnson smiling and holding his hands up near his sides as if to offer a point

“It’s got a chance of passing,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, Tuesday morning. But if you “MIRV” them together and pretend that they were really separate votes, but at the end of the day, it has the effect of being one vote. I mean, that’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Davidson characterized the TikTok provisions as “camouflage for defending America.”

“‘MIRV’ them together?”

“MIRV” is a Capitol vocabulary term you’re going to hear about as the House tries to advance the four separate foreign aid bills – and then blend them into one for efficiency purposes before sending the package to the Senate.


It’s pronounced “merve.” A “MIRV” is a vestige of the Cold War and missile counts between the United States and Soviet Union. It stands for “Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle.” Each MIRV had multiple nuclear warheads or “MIRVs” attached. This was an issue of contention between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Was a MIRV counted as one missile or four or five? 

The idea is that the House would vote on each individual bill – then blend them together as one for the Senate. 

A parliamentary MIRV!  

Hence why conservatives are upset about the plan by Johnson. It’s four bills. Or is it one? 

Johnson defended the MIRV maneuver.

House Rotunda

“I’m concerned that Israel might not pass through the Senate right now if it’s not included in the package,” said Johnson. “If you separate them, then none of our priorities will be reflected, I’m afraid.”

Conservatives have also implored Johnson to attach border security to the plan. But that might not be feasible.

“We don’t have the votes. If you put Ukraine in any package, you can’t also do the border because I lose Republican votes on that rule. My friends don’t get it,” replied Johnson. 

“Are they still your friends?” asked yours truly.

“They’re all my friends,” said Johnson. “I love everybody in this building.” 

Johnson made his decision on Monday against taking the streamlined Senate aid bill approved in February and instead traveled his own route. Initial information about the plan was scant. 

“What are they doing over there?” asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of your reporter on Monday night as we both exited the Capitol. 

The “what” was the House’s approach on an international aid package. But “over there” referred to the U.S. House of Representatives, that hostile, untamed, political wilderness which lies beyond the boundaries of the Capitol Rotunda.  

The Senate isn’t exactly a peaceful place. But considering the contretemps in the House, the Senate is practically Xanadu. Especially as Republicans skirmish with one another over foreign aid, leadership and a wartime Speaker.

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