Politics / March 22, 2024

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Vacant Motion

The Georgia representative filed a motion to vacate Speaker of the House Mike Johnson this morning.

Chris Lehmann

US Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Mike Johnson (R-La.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), 2023.

(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

You can set your watch by it: A pending government shutdown or debt-ceiling crisis spurs the House of Representatives into disorienting and seemingly inadvertent action. And since said action always involves signing off on the Democratic spending priorities of the Biden administration—as well as the votes of actual Democratic colleagues to get the measures through on the House’s incredible vanishing GOP majority—the hard-right MAGA faction rises up in protest to devour its own leadership.

That was the playbook last spring, when Kevin McCarthy lost his speakership after Florida Representative Matt Gaetz introduced a motion to vacate in the wake of a spending deal that kept the government running. And now that McCarthy’s successor, Mike Johnson, has maneuvered a similar deal through to endorse the appropriations bills for most government operations, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene—last seen trolling President Biden with a flamboyant red MAGA-themed ensemble at the State of the Union address—has revived Gaetz’s stunt, introducing a motion to vacate Johnson’s speakership.

The House is supposed to schedule a vote within two legislative days of a motion’s recognition, but there won’t be any imminent movement on Greene’s ploy, since the chamber is slated to go into recess for two weeks starting this Friday afternoon—presumably to recover from the nerve-jangling exercise of actually getting legislative work done. Still, the Republican Congress’s trademark lunge into complete chaos in the wake of erratic completion of its job is not a good look less than six months out from an election. And in view of very recent history, a vacated speakership would only serve to drive home the basic impairments of GOP governance in near-parodic fashion.

When McCarthy was dumped from the job, the spectacle of a leaderless GOP House drove news cycles for nearly three weeks—with the added bonus of sustained public humiliation for Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise and Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, who gamely sought to harness their caucus’s loose-firehose rancor to their advantage. With the GOP’s majority now several votes thinner than it was then, thanks to retirements in its ranks and the expulsion of New York Representative George Santos, there’s a nonzero chance that a successful motion to vacate this time out could elevate Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries to the speakership. That was among the central objections voiced by the throng of GOP lawmakers who crowded into Greene’s path after she filed her motion, per early reports.

But even barring that high-comic outcome, it’s hard to imagine any House Republican who, in the wake of the fiasco of McCathy’s shit-canning, has the requisite masochism and hubris to put him or herself forward as a Johnson successor. Perhaps, since there’s no formal requirement that a speaker serve as a sitting House member, the Republicans can prevail on George Santos to take the job. Just for starters, he won’t have to be on tenterhooks for fear of alienating a House majority he’s already alienated. And at this point, the offenses that produced his expulsion—a rich tapestry of financial fraud, combined with flagrant misrepresentation of his personal past and CV—really serve as qualifications to lead a House GOP conference that typically only goads itself into action for dramatizations of deep-state-themed culture-war grievances and fraudulent impeachment inquiries.

Or—just spitballing here—House Republicans can enlist Bibi Netanyahu for the job when he’s in town next week. He’s already demonstrated, in the grisliest possible terms, that he will hold on to a leadership job at any cost—and despite those efforts, he’s likely to be looking for a new gig fairly soon. Best of all, Itimar Ben-Gvir, the most notorious hard-right coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, is already known as the Israeli Marjorie Taylor Greene.

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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