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House Speaker Mike Johnson is under fire from his party for passing the spending bill


The drama is playing out on Capitol Hill. It may sound familiar. Like his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Mike Johnson worked with Democrats to pass spending bills and keep the government open, and now he might lose his job for it. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Sue, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Happy to be here, Scott.

SIMON: Shortly after the House passed a package of six spending bills on Friday, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a resolution to remove Mike Johnson from leadership.


MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: This is not personal against Mike Johnson. He's a very good man, and I have respect for him as a person, but he is not doing the job.

SIMON: Is this the end for the speaker?

DAVIS: You know, it could be. The vast majority of House Republicans still support Speaker Johnson. It's roughly this same small group of hard-right conservatives who continue to be angry that a Republican speaker cannot deliver clear conservative wins in a divided government. But they've always sort of wanted an impossible outcome. And Johnson understood this. There's only so much you can do when Democrats control the Senate and the White House. And he chose stability in the government versus shutting it down with no end game out of it.

But House Republicans have been infighting since the ousting of former Speaker McCarthy. It's been a really unruly majority. There's a lot of bad blood. And remember, the current House rules still make it easy for just a handful of lawmakers to remove the speaker. Johnson has a short reprieve. The House is going to be adjourned for two weeks until after Easter, but this is something that they could confront in April.

SIMON: Sue, what role might Democrats play? Because they voted unanimously against Kevin McCarthy. But does Speaker Johnson engender any more sympathy?

DAVIS: He does, yes. Hakeem Jeffries - he's the minority leader, the Democrat from New York - he has publicly said that if the motion to vacate were to happen again, some Democrats might vote to save him and keep him as speaker. As Jeffries has reasoned it, they can trust Johnson, where they couldn't trust McCarthy. He has kept his word through these budget negotiations. He did rely on Democratic votes and negotiated in good faith to pass them.

And there is still one must-pass item before the election, at least for the White House and for Democrats, which is that money for Ukraine. And once again, that means Democrats could have some leverage over the speaker and over the Republican majority. But that, again, is still a pretty difficult position for a speaker to be in.

SIMON: And Ukraine aid is an issue that splits the Republican Party. But what kind of path might there be to make it through the House?

DAVIS: You know, Johnson has publicly committed to approving, or at least bringing up for a vote, some form of foreign aid. It's not necessarily going to be that full $95 billion package that the Senate approved. Some Republicans are talking about making it a loan or putting other terms on the money, but it seems pretty clear that there is a bipartisan majority of votes to pass aid to Ukraine in the House. There has been enormous pressure on Speaker Johnson from the national security community, from the White House and from the other top-three congressional leaders saying, we have to do this. But Donald Trump opposes it, and there is deep opposition to this money among Republican base voters.

So far Donald Trump continues to back Johnson for speaker, but, you know, could that change? That could weigh on lawmakers here, and it adds to the precarious nature of his hold on the job and how long he can hold on to it, and whether he can hold on to it through the election.

SIMON: And, Sue, what's the status of the impeachment investigation of President Biden?

DAVIS: It seems like it's on ice. One of the leading investigators, Oversight Chairman James Comer - he's a Republican from Kentucky - he said this week that the path forward might shift to possible criminal referrals to the Justice Department. That, of course, does not mean that the Justice Department will investigate. It just means they could. It seems pretty clear Republicans don't have the votes to impeach Joe Biden on the House floor. Democrats are obviously not going to help them on that one, Scott. But this is a tough vote that just got tougher.

Ken Buck of Colorado is a House Republican who left the House early on Friday. He retired early. That same day, Mike Gallagher - he's a Republican from Wisconsin - announced - he'd already said he was going to retire, but he announced he's going to leave in a couple of weeks. Gallagher was one of just three Republicans who voted against the impeachment of Homeland Secretary Mayorkas. He condemned his party for using impeachments for purely political purposes. But also what that means, Scott, is when Mike Gallagher leaves, Speaker Johnson is going to have a one-vote margin in his majority to pass legislation or any other matter through the House.

SIMON: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST 45TH ST.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.