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Jim Jordan’s Speaker Bid Hanging by a Thread
What in the hell comes next?
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At this hour, there is still no speaker of the House. Let’s unpack how this is still happening, who’s standing in the way of Jim Jordan’s run at the job, and what comes next.
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Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) did not win the speakership in the first round of voting on the floor Tuesday. At this moment, the speaker’s chair is still occupied by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the designated interim leader with limited powers. On the first ballot, instead of having the 217 needed to win, Jordan reached only 200, having lost 20 Republicans—one more than McCarthy during his first round back in January.
Jordan has not yet indicated when a second ballot might occur. The chamber quickly disbanded for negotiations among the 20 holdouts. If Jordan sees momentum or manages to stop the bleeding, he can continue. If Jordan starts seeing an actual alternative candidate emerge instead of members shouting random names as a form of protest against him, he might have to face the music. Unlike McCarthy in January, Jordan has more enemies and fewer bargaining chips.
You’ve likely seen a lot of the holdouts described as “moderates.” An overwhelming majority of them are nothing of the sort and their ideological views are almost identical. Where they differ is their temperament and tactics. The old way of business—which is still very much alive in the Democratic Caucus and across the Capitol in the Senate—is that you move up the ranks by making allies and getting stuff done. Consistency is key and it pays off through promotions, plum committee assignments, and hopefully, at the ballot box.
In his warparth to the speakership, Jordan has been destroying the traditional system (a common theme in today’s Republican party). Jordan has been in Congress since 2007. Not once during the past 16 years has any of the legislation he’s sponsored become law. Just three of his bills have passed the full House: this year’s establishment of a subcommittee on the “weaponization” of the federal government, a call for the attorney general to appoint a special counsel nine years ago during the Obama administration, and in his first term, an resolution expressing sympathy for Ohio flood victims (the resolution did not authorize any additional funds for the flood victims—it just expressed sympathy).
In seeking the gavel during the past two weeks, Jordan has drawn from the playbook he used during the 2020 election cycle, when he stoked fears about voter fraud, repeatedly challenged and undermined the election results, and plotted to place a loser in the winner’s column. A brief timeline of Jordan’s schlep to the speakership since Kevin McCarthy’s defenestration on October 3:
Jordan campaigned to be the House Republican Conference nominee for speaker.
But he lost the nomination to Steve Scalise.
Jordan publicly voiced support for Scalise, but his most diehard supporters didn’t. They instead held firm to block any pathway for the official conference nominee, forcing him to bow out of the race last Thursday.
Jordan then moved to the front of the line, declaring “America wants me,” according to Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.).
A few dozen Republicans held out, vowing to present a challenger to Jordan.
One by one, Jordan flipped the most vocal opponents to his speakership, through assurances behind closed doors, appeals to unite against the common enemy (Democrats), and, most glaringly, intimidation.
Over the weekend, Jordan brought another form of pressure to bear on the holdouts: Fox News employees working for Sean Hannity probed Jordan skeptics with cryptic emails signaling they could be targeted by the cable news behemoth if they don’t get on board.
Now Jordan is trying to hold on to his attempt at a Charmin-soft coup. An individual serving as the face of a small minority of Republican members of Congress, representing an even slimmer minority of the American public, could yet be two heartbeats away from the presidency. But he didn’t get there on the first ballot.
The Jordan holdouts have been mixed on the reasons for their opposition. Some, like Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.), were frustrated by the process and Jordan’s tactics.
“My issue is this. So two things. First place, obviously we had an election,” Diaz-Balart told reporters Monday night. “The guy who won is who I support. Novel concept, right?”
“I just can't abide by the fact that a small group violated the rules to get what they wanted,” said Bacon. “Now I'm supposed to play by the rules? So I think we've got to have consequences.”
Just one Republican seems to be concerned about Jordan’s role in instigating and plotting the 2020 election lies and challenges that culminated in an attack on the Capitol: Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).
During the closed-door conference meeting in the Capitol Monday night, Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) questioned Jordan on whether he believes Joe Biden rightfully won the 2020 election.
According to Buck, Jordan evaded a direct answer:
If he’s going to lead this conference during a presidential election cycle, and particularly a presidential election year with primaries and caucuses around the country, he is going to have to be strong and say, “Donald Trump didn’t win the election.”
It’s worth noting that Rep. Hill, despite being unsure of where the man seeking one of the highest positions in government stands on election integrity, is still on Team Jordan. Buck, however, voted against Jordan in the first ballot and has been saying he’ll be staying against Jordan.
The holdouts all appear to agree that at least one thing is worse than any election denier with zero legislative wins in his 16-year career: a Democrat with the gavel.
“Remember, when you go to the floor—if we go to the floor—everybody votes for whoever they want,” said Diaz-Balart. “I think obviously number one, I will never, ever vote for a Democrat for speaker. Ever. No matter the circumstances.”
While this fight has consumed the House for two weeks, there is still the issue of government funding, additional aid to Israel, Ukraine, and a host of other expiring programs that Congress needs to address by year’s end.
The Jordan plan, which isn’t set in stone, could include a stopgap funding bill that goes until April 2024, but includes a one percent cut across every level of government. This is likely to infuriate the Democratic-controlled Senate. Alternative routes include a short-term continuing resolution, which is how we got into this mess in the first place,1 or a bipartisan deal that keeps the government open with compromises that both parties find amendable.2
Or at least that’s how the McCarthy-ousters claim we got here. The choice to go through with offing McCarthy was ultimately theirs.