Johnson says he won't change rules for ousting speakers after warnings from GOP hard-liners

Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert had called the issue a "red line."

House Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday quashed rumors he was considering changes to make it more difficult to oust him from his leadership post, after Republican hard-liners warned it was a "red line" he shouldn’t cross.

Johnson, in a statement posted to X, criticized the current rule allowing a single member to offer a motion to vacate the speaker's chair as having "harmed" the office and the party's majority in the House -- but said it will stand for now.

"Recently, many members have encouraged me to endorse a new rule to raise this threshold," he said. "While I understand the importance of that idea, any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have. We will continue to govern under the existing rules."

Throughout the day, the party's right flank had sought assurances Johnson would not consider a change to the threshold to advance a motion to vacate.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is leading the charge to take the gavel from Johnson, said earlier Thursday he "owes our entire conference a meeting and if he wants to change the motion to vacate."

"This has never happened in history. And it's completely wrong. He owes our conference the truth and he owes Republicans answers," Greene, R-Ga., said. "He's going to prove exactly what I've been saying correct. He is the Democrat's speaker."

PHOTO: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gaggles with reporters on the steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gaggles with reporters on the steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

While Greene addressed reporters on the House steps, Johnson remained on the floor surrounded by conservative hard-liners, who pressed him to commit to not changing the rule.

Standing at the back of the chamber, Johnson was surrounded by GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Derrick Van Orden, Bob Good, Byron Donalds, Tim Burchett, Scott Perry, Eli Crane, Andy Ogles and Clay Higgins.

Johnson did not comment to reporters when he left the chamber and walked back to his office.

"He was equivocating," Gaetz reported afterward, saying Johnson hadn't in that conversation given the answer they wanted.

Gaetz signaled he would join the effort to oust Johnson if the speaker decided to change that threshold, and Boebert flat-out said it's a "red line" for her, as well -- underscoring the delicate balance Johnson faces as he plows forward on the national security bills and simultaneously tries to retain the gavel.

The current rules governing the motion to vacate were part of concessions former Rep. Kevin McCarthy agreed to in order to secure the speakership during 15 rounds of voting at the start of the 118th Congress. McCarthy was ousted by a small faction of his own party after nine months on the job. He resigned from Congress not long after.

"I told [Johnson] changing the threshold of the motion to vacate -- that's been my red line this entire Congress," Boebert, R-Colo., said. "It's my red line then, it's my red line now. I told [him] there's nothing that will get you to a motion to vacate faster than changing the threshold."

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 10, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 10, 2024.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Gaetz said Van Orden inserted himself in the conversation, defending Johnson and daring the group to move forward on the motion to vacate. Van Orden's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"I think a motion to vacate is something that could put the conference in peril and Miss Boebert and I were working to avoid that," Gaetz said. "Our goal is to avoid a motion to vacate. But we're not going to surrender that accountability tool, particularly in a time when we're seeing America's interests subjugated to foreign interests abroad."

Gaetz said Johnson "views the Ukraine issue very differently" than him. He's urging Johnson to opt against holding votes on the bills in the foreign aid package until the Senate passes H.R. 2, the House-passed border bill that has no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law.

"We're worried about America's border. He seems to be more worried about Ukraine," Gaetz said.

Johnson on Wednesday said providing aid to Ukraine as it fights Russian invaders was worth the risk to his job.

"This is not a game. It's not a joke," Johnson said. "We have to do the right thing and I'm going to allow an opportunity for every single member of the House to vote their conscience and their will on this. And I think that's the way this institution is supposed to work. And I'm willing to take personal risk for that because we have to do the right thing and history will judge us."

ABC News' Juhi Doshi contributed to this report.

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