Failure to oust Speaker ‘MAGA Mike’ Johnson shows strength and weakness of his alliance with Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was Donald Trump who bestowed the “MAGA Mike Johnson” nickname on the House speaker the day he won the gavel.

It is the Republican speaker himself who is proving whether it sticks.

Johnson survived an ouster vote this week by one of Trump’s biggest supporters in Congress, far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, his job secured only after House Democrats turned out in force to put an end to the GOP chaos, for now.

But the oversized role Trump played in propping up Johnson cannot be understated — or relied upon to save the speaker again.

In fact, the indicted former president who has been known to flip his friends into foes warned that while Republicans shouldn’t be voting to remove Johnson, “At some point, we may very well be, but this is not the time.”

The outcome puts on display the fragility of the unexpected but strategically beneficial alliance that Trump and Johnson have formed ahead of the November election when both hope to be returned to power — the Republican president in the White House and the loyal foot soldier in Congress.

“Seems like they’re on the same page, and I think that’s great,” said lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who was a key figure in Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election.

Johnson has worked diligently to align himself with the former president, the conservative Christian setting aside his once critical views of the presidential contender to present himself as a chief implementer of the Trump Republican Party’s Make America Great Again agenda on Capitol Hill.

Barely six months on the job, since Johnson replaced the ousted then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the new leader has dashed multiple times to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, securing crucial support, including at a glitzy Republican National Committee gala this past weekend.

When Trump invited Johnson to the stage to say a few words, the speaker praised the former president as the “strongman” the country needs in the White House. Trump and Johnson are cordial, according to a person with knowledge of their relationship, and granted anonymity to discuss it.

“He’s doing a great job,” Trump said alongside Johnson after another visit last month, ahead of the House vote to approve a national security package with Ukraine funding that Greene warned would lead to a vote on Johnson’s ouster.

In return for his seal of approval, Trump is increasingly able to rely on the speaker’s high-profile standing to legitimize his relentless attacks on the U.S. election process, the judicial system and the multiple criminal cases against him, including the federal indictment for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

“All these cases need to be dropped,” says Johnson, a constitutional lawyer, who as the House speaker is second in the line of presidential succession. “President Trump has done nothing wrong. … It has to stop.”

Trump is already pre-emptively contesting the 2024 election as potentially rigged before the first ballots are cast, and Johnson, who helped lead legal challenges to Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, is in a powerful position to again question the legitimacy of the outcome.

Asked this week if he believed the 2020 election was legitimate and if he would stand by the new state-certified results this fall, Johnson shook his head in frustration, and demurred. “What we’re talking about today is the 2024 election, nobody can go back and relitigate what happened in 2020,” he said.

The joint venture between Trump and Johnson was in clear focus Wednesday ahead of the House action when the speaker, flanked on the Capitol steps by a who’s who of the former president’s advisers, announced new legislation that would require proof of citizenship before Americans are eligible to vote.

Johnson had promised Trump a voting-citizenship bill during one of the Mar-a-Lago visits, and the unveiling of it alongside Mitchell, Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, and others showed just how embedded the former president’s Make America Great Again movement has become in the House speaker’s agenda.

Election experts said there is scant evidence that non-citizens vote in U.S. elections, and past reviews including one pursued by the Trump administration have not produced significant cases of wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, Johnson and the others argued without proof that immigrants are being brought into the U.S. to illegally vote. The legislation can be seen as groundwork for the challenges Trump may pose in the aftermath of the November election.

“If this bill does not become law, then Joe Biden and Democrats will have engineered one of the greatest interferences in any democratic nation in the history of the world,” Miller said outside the Capitol.

Still, the legislative push did not placate Greene, who hours later tried and failed to remove the speaker from office.

Colleagues booed in protest. An overwhelming majority, 359-43, kept Johnson in his job, for now.

“I’m proud of what I did today,” Greene said afterward on the Capitol steps.

It’s the second time in a matter of months that Republicans have worked to oust their own speaker, an unheard of level of party upheaval with a move rarely seen in U.S. history.

Without Democratic help, Johnson would have certainly faced a more dismal outcome. All told, 196 and 163 Democrats voted to table Greene’s motion. But 11 Republicans voted to proceed with the effort, more than it took to remove McCarthy last fall, a first in U.S. history.

Democrats have also made clear their help was for this moment alone, and not a promise of an enduring partnership for Johnson’s survival.

“Our decision to stop Marjorie Taylor Greene from plunging the country into further chaos is rooted in our commitment to solve problems,” said Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., after the vote.

“The only thing we ask of our House Republican colleagues is for traditional Republicans to further isolate the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the GOP,” said Jeffries, who is in line to become speaker if Democrats win control of the House in the fall. “We need more common sense and less chaos.”

Asked about a future motion to vacate the speaker, Jeffries said, “Haven’t given it a thought.”

By relying on Democratic backing, Johnson risks inciting more criticism that he is insufficiently loyal to the party.

And the threat still lingers — any single lawmaker can call up the motion to vacate the speaker.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Michelle Price, Stephen Groves, Mary Clare Jalonick and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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