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As House recess begins, Speaker Johnson faces test to his leadership

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It might not be much of a spring break for House Speaker Mike Johnson. He's heading back to Louisiana for a two-week recess, but he knows that one lawmaker, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, has filed a motion to remove him. So what now? Republican strategist Ron Bonjean joins us now. He's been a spokesperson for Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Welcome back.

RON BONJEAN: Thanks for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Is Speaker Johnson in real danger of being kicked out the same way that Kevin McCarthy was last year?

BONJEAN: Yes. You'd have to believe that he is. I mean, after putting forward the $1.2 trillion budget package to the House, he infuriated the House Freedom Caucus, especially MTG, of course. And now we have averted a government shutdown. But by doing that, he has stoked the ire of these members who are watching him very closely. Now, that motion to vacate that she filed is just a warning shot. She hasn't scheduled a floor date for it. It's completely a shot across his bow to say if you do anything more like this, we're going to likely have you removed.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note a few of the details here. One lawmaker can bring this motion to vacate. You said she hasn't scheduled it. She can, if she wants, insist on the privilege of getting a vote on this. She doesn't have to wait on House leadership to do it for her. So she has power in this situation. And if even a few Republicans went along with that narrow majority, Johnson could lose his job. But this is about math. Haven't Democrats signaled they might save Mike Johnson if it ever came to that?

BONJEAN: You know what? It's probably unlikely that House Democrats will save Mike Johnson. It's very difficult to do. It's in the bloodstream of Democrats and Republicans to stick with their own and elect their own majorities and not help out the other side. When it comes down to policy issues, that's a different story. If it's a policy they agree with, such as passing government funding, they'll come over and help Mike Johnson. But I don't think they're going to help Mike Johnson remain as speaker. They're going to leave it to House Republicans to try to figure that out.

INSKEEP: Well, there is a policy issue that is looming that some Republicans do not want and they have blocked and Johnson has blocked, and that, of course, is U.S. aid to Ukraine, additional aid. There's a measure where it's been tied to Israeli aid and other things. But the fundamental problem here is aid to Ukraine. How can you imagine Mike Johnson allowing a vote on Ukraine aid and keeping his job?

BONJEAN: That is a great question. This is the most - going to be a very difficult maze for him to navigate. He has expended most of his political capital getting through this - the - getting through this spending package, getting to a Ukraine package, and having that passed is going to take some time. He needs to bring on board these Freedom Caucus members. And so they need to agree on the policy before it actually moves forward. If he does not decide to, you know, stick with them and just put it on the floor, yeah, he's probably going to lose his speakership. So...

INSKEEP: Meaning it would...

BONJEAN: ...You're likely...

INSKEEP: ...Pass, but then there would be this vote that would depose him.

BONJEAN: That's exactly right. It would pass with Democratic votes and Republican votes. But then that motion to vacate, it's likely going to be scheduled. And then Republicans are going to be, you know, we're going to be in a crisis. Congress will be in a crisis because they have to elect a new speaker.

INSKEEP: Mike Johnson himself has questioned the value of Ukraine aid and even voted against Ukraine aid in the past. Granted, you're not him, but what's your sense? Do you think he even wants Ukraine aid to pass?

BONJEAN: I think that he senses that it needs to pass, because he gets those national security briefings that leaders get, and he's changed his tune just slightly regarding it. You know what? I think these members have started to look at, well, maybe we could use Ukraine aid. Maybe Ukraine aid could be a loan. Maybe we could just loan them the money and get it back at some point or maybe never but have some political cover.

INSKEEP: OK. Ron Bonjean, appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

BONJEAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's a Republican strategist.

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