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In The Good Republicans’ Last Stand (The Atlantic, 2024-02-12), discussing bills for aid to Ukraine, David Frum writes

...17 Republican senators joined Democrats to speed assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan by a filibuster-proof majority. Most observers reckon on a cross-party majority in the House of Representatives for the bill to aid these democratic U.S. allies.

Pro-Trump, anti-Ukraine Republicans look to the Republican House leadership to prevent the measure from coming to a vote in the House. Speaker Mike Johnson is loyal to Trump and has tilted strongly against Ukraine over the past year. But his hold on the House is weak, and he has been losing important votes.

If a majority of the House wanted the bill to come to a vote, how exactly could Johnson prevent the bill from doing so?

An answer to a related question that provides some (but far from complete, for me) illumination on this seems to indicate that the House Rules Committee decides whether a bill can go to the floor or not, but that somehow a vote of the whole House can be taken where a two-thirds majority would force the bill to the floor (and thus, presumably, a vote). But who decides whether and when this "vote on whether to be able to have a vote" happens? Maybe the speaker could even be removed during that process if that allows a vote.

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    The question about removing him as Speaker should really be a separate question; it may have been answered with previous questions over the Republicans' ousting of Kevin McCarthy. Though the struggles over Kevin McCarthy and his replacement are good reason for any Republican to not force a vote on dismissing the current speaker.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 13 at 10:00
  • great question, upvoted.
    – Sayaman
    Feb 14 at 1:36
  • I notice I have three close votes indicating that, "This question currently includes multiple questions in one. It should focus on one problem only." So I should split this into two questions? The feels a bit like grubbing for XP to me, but hey, I'm happy to do that and take the extra upvotes I'd get from making it two questions.
    – cjs
    Feb 14 at 7:06
  • "feels a bit like grubbing for XP" It's not. XP is only something virtual, while having good focused questions is something real. The "can the speaker be removed over this" anyway reduces to "can the speaker be removed" and probably has been answered already somewhere else. The actual relevant question is "can the speaker prevent a vote on the foreign aid" and the answer would probably be that he can make it very difficult at least. Part of the answer would then be that he may be removed (which however makes a vote in the near term not more likely). Feb 14 at 7:35

2 Answers 2

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If a majority of the house wants the bill to come to a vote, how exactly can Johnson prevent the bill from doing so?

He can't. The House has a procedure called a discharge petition, which enables a simple majority to "discharge" any bill from any committee and force a floor vote on it.

Normally, this is not done, because the whole point of the committee process is to enable party leadership (especially the Speaker) to control the flow of legislation. If the majority wants something to pass, that would usually imply that the majority's party leadership wants it to pass, and also that the folks on the Rules Committee would want it to pass. However, we live in unusual times, so now there are at least three distinct groups who have some role in this:

  • Johnson (the Speaker), who has the ability to do things like call a vote on suspension of the rules. This requires a 2/3 supermajority, but that supermajority itself functions as a convenient excuse (i.e. "this is bipartisan legislation with strong support on both sides, and putting it through the usual red tape would've been a waste of time"), which may even have the virtue of being true in some cases.
  • The Rules Committee, which is usually stacked with the Speaker's close allies, is instead controlled in part by Republican hardliners. This Committee controls the regular scheduling of bills and the overall legislative calendar. Its "normal" function is to insulate the Speaker from being held directly responsible for scheduling decisions, as well as to relieve him of the administrative burden. Its alternative use by a faction of the party against the Speaker's preferences is atypical.
  • The rest of the Republican conference, which is split between moderates and hardliners. Actually, if you look more closely, there are probably more than just two factions there, but the point is that usually, the conference as a whole follows the Speaker's lead. While, in principle, they can sign a discharge petition (which will also be supported by the minority, in most cases), most of the time, they prefer to let the Speaker and Rules Committee set the calendar as a matter of party discipline and unity, so discharge petitions are rarely successful in practice, especially since the names of all the signatories are immediately public, regardless of whether the petition succeeds or fails.

With such a thin majority, and such a sharp divide between factions, discharge petitions would appear to be more possible now than they have been in the past (but we still have not seen any successful petitions in this legislative session). However, it should be emphasized that signing a discharge petition is a public act of defiance against party leadership. It will be seen very harshly by the hardline wing of the party, and even the moderate wing doesn't particularly like discharge petitions either.

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    Discharge petitions are rarely successful. Moreover, the supporters of a discharge petition have to state their support publicly in the form of their signature on the petition. This makes Republicans going against the will of party leadership a rather tough road, even for those who privately support some measure. To make matters even worse, discharge petitions have to sit for a good amount of time (30 days if I read the rules correctly), and then are only considered a couple of times a month. The rules and political concerns are massively stacked against discharge petitions. Feb 13 at 8:20
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There is a good answer to half of the question, here is the answer to the other half:

my understanding is that any single house member can force a vote on removing him as speaker, at which point a very few Republicans, if annoyed enough, could team up with the Democrats to remove him as speaker. Is this actually the case?

Yes. We've seen it happen already once in the current Congress. The Speaker only has to lose two Republicans at this time (in the wake the special election in New York State's third Congressional District to replace George Santos) to be unseated if the Democrats cooperate with the dissenting Republicans.

Many countries allow the presiding figure in a legislative body to be removed only in a "constructive vote" that replaces the existing leader with a new one. But the United States Congress is not such a legislative body.

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    Isn't the flip-side to "no constructive vote is needed" to remove the speaker that subsequent to such a removal no bills can be passed in the House before a new speaker is elected, which may take quite a while? If so, it is not clear that going down this path would speed up passage of a Ukraine aid package in the House.
    – njuffa
    Feb 14 at 0:19
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    @njuffa "no bills can be passed in the House before a new speaker is elected" Yes. It probably wouldn't speed up a Ukraine aid package in the House. But he can be removed over this or any other issue.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 14 at 0:35
  • That it happened once and it proved a bruising process may make it less likely they'd be willing to do it again, so soon. Generally speaking, Johnson is much more to Trump's liking than his predecessor, so that probably figures in the calculus of the "hardliners" Feb 14 at 6:46
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    I've moved the part about forcing a vote on removing the speaker to another question; you probably want to copy this answer there.
    – cjs
    Feb 15 at 7:22

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