Revolt against Johnson opens up fresh talk over House GOP leadership’s future

Speaker Mike Johnson’s weakened position inside the House GOP conference has sparked delicate internal discussions about who could potentially replace him if he can’t hang on to the job – whether it’s in this Congress or the next one, according to interviews with over a dozen Republican lawmakers and aides.

While no one is looking to challenge the Louisiana Republican outright and few are even interested in taking the reins of the chaotic and razor-thin majority, there’s a widespread belief that there could be another leadership shakeup in the future – and some Republicans are quietly positioning themselves for such a scenario.

Among the GOP lawmakers whose moves are being watched closely: House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who unsuccessfully ran for the speakership in October.

Emmer, the No. 3 Republican, has taken steps to not only repair his relationship with Donald Trump – who helped to quickly derail his speakership bid last year – but also to work behind the scenes to win over House Republicans once skeptical of the Minnesota Republican, sources said. That includes voting last week for a House Freedom Caucus-backed amendment to a foreign surveillance law. Emmer was the only member of GOP leadership to support the provision, which ultimately failed. And Emmer also traveled to Pennsylvania over the weekend to attend a roundtable and reception with Trump ahead of his rally in the state, multiple sources told CNN.

“Tom was very well praised by the president. … He was very pleased to see the whip there,” Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, who was also in attendance, told CNN. “A lot of people were happy to see the whip there.”

Asked about Trump burying the hatchet with Emmer and recently endorsing him, Meuser said: “I handed it to Trump for doing that.”

In recent days, proxies close to Emmer have also reached out to some Republicans to gauge his standing inside the conference, according to three sources, including a GOP leadership aide. Neither Emmer nor his office have been making any calls on his behalf, and Emmer has made clear he is firmly against a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. Still, sources believe Emmer is working to improve his stock inside both the House GOP and MAGA world, and keeping his options open for the future.

“They’re testing the waters,” the GOP leadership aide told CNN.

Another potential contender who sources believe could run for the top job in the next Congress: House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, who also mounted an unsuccessful bid for speaker last year. Jordan has publicly backed Johnson and wants him to keep his job. But the Ohio Republican is still beloved by conservatives, and sources believe he could have a strong case to lead the conference next year – especially if Trump is back in the White House.

Others who could be waiting in the wings: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who also previously ran for speaker, and House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, a top Trump ally.

But working to Johnson’s advantage, at least in this Congress: the GOP’s inability to get behind a successor, as well as Democrats signaling they’d be willing to save him if a motion to vacate were to come to the floor.

Still, the quiet maneuvering inside the House GOP conference shows a level of uncertainty among Republicans about the long-term political future of Johnson, who unexpectedly came into the job after the unprecedented ouster of their last speaker, Kevin McCarthy.

And those conversations could soon intensify, particularly after GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky announced Tuesday he was signing on to the motion to vacate led by GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia – a precarious development for Johnson in a shrinking majority. The speaker will not be able to lose more than one Republican on party-line votes.

“It keeps bubbling around,” one GOP lawmaker said of the quiet discussions about a potential Johnson successor.

Some Republicans are now privately – and in some cases, publicly – questioning whether Johnson will be able to hang on to his post next Congress, especially if he needs Democrats to bail him out this year. There’s ample uncertainty about what the mood will be next year, which could depend on the election results in November.

“He’s definitely not going to be speaker next Congress if we’re lucky enough to have a majority. I think that is a widely held belief throughout the Congress,” Greene told CNN.

But in terms of what happens during the remainder of this session, Greene was less definitive: “That is to be determined.”

For his part, Johnson insisted he would not need Democratic support to hold onto his gavel, telling reporters they would “work this out.”

But he also referred to himself as a “wartime speaker” – a recognition of the embattled role he finds himself in – and warned Republicans that a motion to vacate “is not helpful to the cause.”

“I am not resigning. And it is in my view an absurd notion that someone would bring a vacate motion when we are simply here trying to do our jobs,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need steady leadership. We need steady hands on the wheel.”

Emmer courts Trump world

After Emmer’s speakership bid was derailed at the hands of Trump in just hours – with the former president slamming Emmer as a “RINO,” an acronym for “Republican in name only” – the Minnesota Republican recognized he needed to repair their frayed relationship to preserve his political future, according to sources close to him.

As part of his effort to curry favor with the former president, Emmer endorsed Trump ahead of the Iowa caucuses in January, which sources say Trump relished in and marked a key turning point in their relationship.

Trump soon returned the favor, endorsing Emmer for reelection in April and calling the congressman “fantastic.” One month earlier, Emmer hosted a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, where sources say Trump praised his leadership. Trump also tapped Emmer to serve as Minnesota state chair of his 2024 campaign, in another sign of their improved ties.

Sources say Emmer has also been attempting to make inroads with key conservative hardliners in the House, talking to members of the House Freedom Caucus constantly on the floor and showing support for issues they care deeply about.

And Emmer has also ramped up his fundraising, which could be another selling point for any future leadership bid. Emmer’s team touted that he raised $7.2 million for GOP candidates and incumbents in the first quarter of the year – a record for the Minnesota Republican.

For his part, Emmer has expressed support for Johnson amid threats to his speakership, even as he has shown some distance from all the drama. When asked Tuesday if he was frustrated by the threats, Emmer said: “My job is to count votes, make sure our people are getting the information they need, we are going to get stuff done.”

Pressed on why it’s important for Johnson to keep his job, Emmer said: “Again, we are going to be focused on the things we have in front of us this week, we have some great bills on the floor tonight and tomorrow, we are waiting to see text on the supplemental.”

GOP finger pointing underway

Meanwhile, Johnson has been making his own moves to shore up support from Trump to counter Greene, one of Trump’s most vocal congressional allies.

Johnson trekked down to Mar-a-Lago last week to deliver a joint press conference on so-called “election integrity,” which was Johnson’s idea, as CNN previously reported. And as the Louisiana Republican pitches his conference on foreign aid legislation, he also has been working to keep Trump in the loop on his plans, sources said.

During the press conference, Johnson got some key backup from the former president.

“I stand with the speaker,” said Trump, who also called the continued threat of a motion to vacate “unfortunate.”

Asked Tuesday if he would protect Johnson, Trump said, “Well, we’ll see what happens with that,” adding, “I think he’s a very good person.”

Sources say Trump is not interested in another messy speaker fight, worried it could undermine Republicans ahead of November. And a large swath of the House GOP conference agrees.

Republicans descended into a round of angry finger pointing Tuesday after Greene’s effort to oust Johnson grew by one.

Rep. Marc Molinaro, a swing district New York Republican, told CNN that the push to vacate Johnson was an “absolutely ridiculous concept,” adding, “The concept of another motion to vacate is an utter waste of time, and frankly a distraction from really important business. It hopefully has no ability to move forward.”

Another GOP lawmaker told CNN that Republicans should accept the hand they have been dealt: “We have Johnson and we did it to ourselves. Every decision we as a conference make should be in the best interest of getting the White House back in 2024. Period!”

And the scars still run deep from the protracted speakership fight following McCarthy’s ousting, which exposed internal divisions and left the House paralyzed for three weeks.

Louisiana GOP Rep. Garret Graves warned against the idea of ousting Johnson without another speaker candidate waiting in the wings.

“I don’t think that the threat is really real at this point, just because you don’t have an alternative. We saw what happened last fall, whenever this all went down. There’s not an alternative,” Graves said. “I don’t think that folks are going to go through it at this point.”

Jordan also insisted that Republicans needed to fall in line behind Johnson, telling CNN of threats to oust the speaker, “We don’t need that. No way, no way. We don’t want that. We shouldn’t go through that again.”

Morgan Rimmer and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.

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