Mike Johnson says he ‘isn’t afraid’ to change House speaker removal rule

Republican House speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he “isn’t afraid” of changing the rules governing how the speaker can be removed from the post by any one member, Democrat or Republican, who introduces a “motion to vacate” followed by a majority-wins floor vote.

The rule was adopted earlier this year among a number of concessions to the Republican far right agreed by to win the position. He was then brought down by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz who used the rule to force a vote against him after McCarthy made a budget deal with Democrats.

Related: New House speaker Mike Johnson praised ‘18th-century values’ in speech

McCarthy was forced out on 3 October, the first speaker ever to be ejected, leading to a prolonged effort by lawmakers to select a speaker before arriving at Louisiana’s Johnson, a comparative neophyte to intra-Republican party warfare. He was elected the 56th House speaker on Wednesday.

“Everyone’s here in good faith … and everyone has told me that that rule has to change,” Johnson said Sunday on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures”.

But he added: “I’m not afraid of it because I’m going to openly work transparently and work with every member and everyone will be … will fully understand what we’re doing and why.”

He acknowledged that the motion vacate rule that led to the Gaetz-led mutiny “makes it difficult for any speaker to do their job”.

Johnson has said it’s his wish to decentralize political power from the speaker to the committees in the legislative body and to lead the body in a more transparent fashion.

On Sunday he said that his “highest priority is to get this work done and to do it an open and transparent way into as I said in my speech, the night when I took the oath, to decentralize the power from the speaker’s office”.

“I really want to empower our chairman and the committees of jurisdiction and all the talented people in the House and make them more of a part of the big decisions and the situations and the processes here and ensure regular order,” Johnson said. “If we do that, we don’t have to worry about a motion to vacate and I’m doing that, working on that everyday.”

McCarthy had agreed to the rule change reducing the number of members required to call a confidence vote from five to one as part of a package with Republican hardliners who had forced him to endure 14 rounds of voting before winning the position on the 15th.

Previously, under Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker could only be threatened when a majority of one party supported the motion to vacate. Until McCarthy was ousted, it had only been used once before, in 1910, when it failed.

Others had unsuccessfully tried to use it, including against Newt Gingrich in 1997 and in 2015 when Republican Mark Meadows filed the motion against speaker John Boehner, but it did not reach a vote and Boehner resigned months later.


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