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I want my MTV (Motion to Vacate): Speaker Johnson faces potential threat when Congress returns

When the House returns in April, Speaker Johnson could face a threat to his job from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene`

Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers of The Police all yelled into the camera: "I want my MTV!"

Then came Pat Benatar, doing the same thing, followed by Pete Townshend of The Who, all demanding their "MTV."

Finally, The Police show back up on the screen. They warble something which sounds roughly like the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman." Then hoist telephone receivers.

"Call your cable company… and sing ‘I want my MTV!’" The Police ordered.

And to think that lawmakers were mad about TikTok imploring teenagers to phone Congress, urging a no vote on a bill to curb use of the social media app in the U.S.

Well, there are a few lawmakers who want their MTV, too. Many actually wish it would go away.

When it comes to MTV, we’re not talking about "Music Television."


In this instance, MTV means a "motion to vacate" the chair. That’s the formal parliamentary maneuver to force a speaker of the House out the door. But in congressional shorthand, it's an "MTV."

When do Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter show up?

So guess who wants her MTV?

MTG – Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Video Killed the Radio Star. But a successful MTV could kill the political future of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

Greene recently prepped an MTV, telling Johnson to Beat It. This is the same gambit Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., engineered to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last fall.

"Speaker Johnson has betrayed our conference and broken our rules," Greene said after introducing her measure last month to remove the speaker.


She was incensed that Johnson acceded to an agreement with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown and ignored the House’s internal "72 hour rule" to read legislation before taking a vote. The House passed the bill, 286-134. But only 101 Republicans supported it compared to 112 no's – despite the GOP running the House.

"This bill was basically a dream and a wish list for Democrats and the White House," Greene said. "I do not wish to inflict pain on our conference and throw the House into chaos. But this is basically a warning. It’s time for us to go through the process. Take our time. And find a new speaker of the House that will stand with Republicans and our Republican majority instead of standing with Democrats."

Greene added that "the clock has started."

Clock the Heart? Boy George and Culture Club? Hardly. It’s more like Greene is channeling "With or Without You" by U2 when it comes to Johnson.

The speaker might prefer another selection. Perhaps the legendary video Take On Me by the band a-ha.

So who exactly would "take on" Johnson? Who would want the job? Could the Republican-controlled House even elect a new speaker? House Republicans churned through three speaker candidates and more than three weeks before they settled on Johnson last fall.

Johnson may be left saying "domo arigato, Mr. Roboto," if Greene forges ahead with her move.

It’s important to note that Greene did not trigger her MTV right away. A "motion to vacate the chair" is of high privilege in the House. If Greene insists that the House consider her no confidence vote for Johnson, the House must bring it up on the spot or within two legislative days. The House is out of session until April 8, so nothing will happen right away. But note that Greene’s MTV measure does not belong to her. Now that Greene presented her MTV, any House member could seize it and require the House to consider it. The resolution is not Greene’s "prerogative," as Bobby Brown might sing.

It’s even possible – but not likely – that the House Republican leadership or a Johnson ally could put Greene’s resolution on the floor and force a vote if they thought the speaker would prevail. That move would euthanize Greene’s effort and demonstrate that Johnson has the support he needs to remain speaker. Think of that move as calling Greene’s bluff to show that Johnson would have the votes to defeat an uprising.

Greene’s tactic mirrors what former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., did in the summer of 2015. The future Trump White House chief of staff drafted a very similar resolution to try to oust then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But like Greene, Meadows just filed his motion. He didn’t launch it, requiring the House to consider the plan.

No fool, Boehner took a page out of Young MC’s songbook and busted a move out of Congress by autumn.

Last October’s surprise removal of McCarthy followed a similar path with the MTV. Gaetz crafted a resolution to demand a confidence vote on the former speaker.

"We intend to use it," said Gaetz, adding that a MTV "is not something that we put on a shelf to admire."

However, for what it’s worth, a copy of Gaetz’s resolution was discovered on a baby changing table in the first floor men’s room of the Capitol. Really.

McCarthy was doomed as soon as he put an interim spending bill on the floor and passed it mostly with Democratic votes in late September. Gaetz demanded the House consider his MTV shortly thereafter. The first vote was on the motion to table or set aside the resolution. But McCarthy lacked the support to survive on the motion to table. Had the House voted to table, Gaetz’s gig was up. But the House defeated the motion to table. That prompted an up/down vote on the MTV itself. And the House voted to throw out its speaker for the first time in history.

Or as Prince might sing in "1999," "Life is just a party. And parties weren’t meant to last."

It is generally believed that Johnson might fare better than McCarthy if Greene made her MTV "live." First of all, members from both sides were utterly exasperated at last fall’s calisthenics to elect a new speaker. Second, it’s believed a Democrat or two may intervene to salvage Johnson and maintain a modicum of continuity in the House.

But here’s the rub: The House Republican majority has shriveled to just a couple of votes. On any given day, a lawmaker could be out sick, or attending a funeral, have a flight canceled. The right (or wrong) cocktail of votes present in the House on any given day makes this a precarious place for Johnson.

To quote the philosopher-king Jon Bon Jovi, Johnson may be "Livin’ on a Prayer."

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