WASHINGTON — Centrist Rep. Susan Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat and one of the Republicans’ top targets in the 2024 election, said in an interview Friday she is leaning toward voting to save Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., if conservative hardliners force a vote to oust him from power.
Far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has personally warned Johnson that she will file a privileged “motion to vacate,” putting the question of Johnson’s political future before the full House, if he tries to pass any package that includes Ukraine aid. Other conservatives are furious with Johnson over the topline spending deal he cut with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and have said a motion to vacate is on the table.
“I really am not inclined to help a member of the Republican Conference who wants to oust the speaker over something like either Ukraine aid or a funding deal with the Democrats,” Wild told NBC News on Friday.
Wild noted that Americans were frustrated by the stunning chaos that ensued last fall after conservative rebels successfully toppled Kevin McCarthy and Republicans struggled to agree on a successor. The House was paralyzed for three straight weeks, unable to do anything without a leader, until the little-known Johnson emerged from the dust as the new speaker.
Wild doesn’t want to endure another messy legislative stoppage like that. And she’s not alone. Vulnerable Democrats, known as frontliners, have been discussing the idea of supporting Johnson in the event of another motion to vacate, Wild said, arguing that voters want to see Congress function and lawmakers govern rather than stoke chaos and dysfunction.
“Until I see the specifics of the whole thing I can’t tell you whether I will vote for it or against it. But my inclination at this point is that we don’t want to see another long shutdown of Congress because we can’t get a speaker,” Wild said in a phone interview with NBC News. “We’ve had enough of that this year. It’s been a very difficult year, and it’s been a very difficult year for the American people to watch the Congress be incredibly dysfunctional.”
Wild is the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee and her re-election race could be among the closest in the House in 2024. Her swing district, Pennsylvania’s 7th, sits between Philadelphia and Scranton, and includes Allentown; Joe Biden edged out Donald Trump in her district in 2020 by 0.6%. And the Cook Political Report rates her race this fall as a “toss-up.”
Under House rules, a single lawmaker can use a motion to vacate to force a floor vote to remove the speaker of the House. Given the GOP’s wafer-thin 219-213 majority, it means that just four Republicans could team with all 213 Democrats to oust Johnson.
But that’s where the Democrats hold the power to rescue him. Because the number of potential Johnson GOP no votes would likely be small, it would only take a few Democrats like Wild to step in and counter those Johnson foes.
“I believe you’re going to see more than a few Democrats who will vote against a motion to vacate,” Wild said in the interview, adding that there has been a discussion about the issue on text chains with fellow frontliners and Democratic women. “I know that most of us are loath to think of another shutdown of Congress while they go through weeks of trying to find another speaker.”
“We have serious, serious disagreements with his policies, with the way he’s conducted things,” the congresswoman continued. “It is in no way an endorsement of Speaker Johnson if you see Democrats voting against a motion to vacate. It’s simply a desire to keep moving our business along.”
The behind-the-scenes discussion happening among Democratic frontliners like Wild is yet another example of how seriously Democrats are taking the conservative threats against Johnson’s three-month-old speakership that they believe could throw the House back into tumult.
NBC News reported Thursday that Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, raised the need to shield Johnson from far-right rebels during a White House meeting between Biden and top congressional leaders. Johnson was in the room.
“Johnson is in a precarious position and [we] should figure out how to protect the guy,” Himes said in the closed-door meeting, according to a source in the room.
In a statement to NBC News for that story, a Johnson spokesman suggested the speaker does not make decisions based on threats like a motion to vacate: “The motion to vacate does not factor into how the Speaker leads the House. He is fully committed to working openly and transparently with every member.”