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Down Goes Jordan
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Down Goes Jordan

The speakership race enters its ‘Mad Max’ era.

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan speaks to the media as he leaves a closed-door House Republican meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Hello and welcome to a late edition of Uphill. Between nonstop news developments and my toddler’s fun case of hand, foot, and mouth disease, it’s been a bit of a rough week. 

It’s also been rough for House Republicans, who still show no signs of being capable of governing.

Some of them aren’t interested in governing at all, which is nothing new. Over the past decade, the conference has overseen multiple government shutdowns, several debt ceiling near-misses, frequent leadership turnover, and an attempt to reject lawful election results to keep their party in power. Not a stellar track record.

But the GOP conference’s current dysfunction is soaring to new heights. Rep. Jim Jordan, a far-right Fox News fixture and ally of former President Donald Trump, failed his third attempt to win the speakership on Friday morning, securing just 194 votes—well short of what he needed and his worst showing yet. After giving the Ohio Republican a week to make his case, most of the GOP conference decided they’d had enough, reportedly voting 112-86 in an internal conference meeting to remove Jordan as the party’s candidate for speaker. 

“We need to come together and figure out who our speaker is going to be,” Jordan said after the conference vote. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to help that individual so that we can go help the American people.”

The House now ends its third consecutive week without a speaker, leaving floor action effectively paralyzed. Lawmakers will head home over the weekend, and the GOP conference plans to start the selection process anew with a candidate forum on Monday night where members can pitch themselves for the job. With former Speaker Kevin McCarthy deposed, Majority Leader Steve Scalise already rejected, and Jordan set aside, the race has a bit of a Mad Max, free-for-all vibe. 

Majority Whip Tom Emmer is already running, and he’s secured McCarthy’s endorsement. Emmer “understands the dynamics of the conference,” McCarthy said Friday afternoon of his colleague from Minnesota. “He also understands what it takes to win and keep a majority.”

As one of the few GOP leaders who didn’t try to overturn the 2020 presidential election—who has also distanced himself from Donald Trump and feuded with right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson—Emmer likely faces an uphill climb. On Friday night, Politico reported Trump had already “conveyed to allies” that he opposes Emmer’s bid.

He’s set to face a varied slate of challengers. Reps. Kevin Hern, Jack Bergman, Austin Scott, Byron Donalds, Mike Johnson, and Pete Sessions all launched bids for the gavel after Jordan flamed out Friday. They—and anyone else who announces by the deadline on Sunday at noon—will be making calls to colleagues over the weekend to try to shore up support. We won’t attempt to make any predictions; if anything has been clear throughout the House GOP’s chaos this month, it’s that no one really knows how this will play out.

“At this point, every outcome is as likely as any other,” former Rep. Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who’s considering a Senate bid, told The Dispatch on Friday. “Might as well just start throwing a 222-sided die and keep holding votes round and round until January 3, 2025.”

We’re in uncharted territory here; this procedural no-man’s land is the event of a lifetime for Congress wonks who love watching precedent be set in real time. But the gridlock comes at a particularly dangerous moment. Members haven’t been able to pass spending bills during the stalemate, and a government shutdown deadline is now just four weeks away. Until the speakership mess is resolved, lawmakers also won’t be able to consider President Joe Biden’s new $105 billion funding request, including roughly $61 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel, $14 billion for securing the southern border, $9 billion for humanitarian aid, and $7 billion for Taiwan.

Given many House Republicans’ aversion to additional Ukraine funding, passing that package would be a difficult task even in a “functioning” House. Without a speaker, it’s not happening anytime soon. 

Jordan and his allies briefly considered a move on Thursday to give more power to acting Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, so the House could consider legislation over the next few months while Jordan worked to win more support from GOP lawmakers. 

The idea fell apart quickly, however, as it managed to upset almost everyone involved. Conservatives argued it amounted to giving Democrats more power during spending negotiations. Jordan’s opponents, meanwhile, didn’t like that he would remain the conference’s speaker-designee and would run for the job again in a few months. After it became obvious there was minimal support for the idea and GOP leaders would need to get Democrats on board—likely with some concessions—they ditched it. But if Republicans can’t decide among their new slate of candidates, a temporary patch like that could always return to the discussion.

Most members desperately want to put this embarrassing saga behind them, but the anger and animosity within the conference that’s built over the last few weeks will make that difficult.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, emerged from Friday’s meeting and slammed the eight Republicans who set this whole situation off by ousting McCarthy earlier this month. He singled out Rep. Nancy Mace, telling reporters it’s been a “long time” since she’s done “anything productive to move forward this broader team.”

“America’s got real problems,” Johnson continued. “And this is a time where we need people who are interested in problem solving, not self-aggrandizement.”

Similar frustrations bubbled up during an hours-long House GOP conference meeting on Thursday, where enemies shouted each other down and personal grudges continued to grow like weeds. At least one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Gallagher, apparently sensed something unholy was afoot and left to pray the rosary.

Rep. Drew Ferguson told the room he had to have law enforcement stationed at his daughter’s school amid a barrage of threats from supporters of Jordan. And Ferguson wasn’t the only one: No fewer than four of Jordan’s opponents reported receiving death threats this week, and Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said his wife had been sleeping with a loaded gun after receiving “ugly” anonymous messages about his votes. 

Jordan himself condemned the threatening rhetoric, but as my colleague Mike Warren presciently wrote earlier this week, the pressure campaign from Jordan’s allies only backfired.

When the Ohio Republican’s bid was on life support, some of those Jordan allies were looking to place the blame elsewhere: on Steve Scalise, who initially won the conference’s nomination for the speakership earlier this month but stepped back after realizing he didn’t have enough support to win on the House floor.

“Scalise could bring the conference together if he would give Jordan’s nominating speech,” Massie told The Dispatch Thursday night, wondering why the Louisiana Republican hadn’t done so yet. Instead, Jordan was nominated by House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy instead. Although Scalise voted for Jordan in all three rounds, Massie argued he didn’t do enough to convince some of his allies to flip their support to Jordan. Scalise is “withholding votes,” Massie claimed. “He’s keeping people back.”

Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Scalise, denied that. “Not true,” she told The Dispatch. “Leader Scalise has been the only candidate throughout this process who has publicly declared he will be supportive of whomever the conference nominates for Speaker, and his position has not changed.”

But it’s far from clear if Scalise—or anyone—actually has enough power to rally the conference around any of the new speaker candidates.

Sen. Bill Cassidy’s Trip to China

I interviewed GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana on Wednesday about his trip to China last week as part of a bipartisan group of six senators that met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The full interview with Cassidy is on the site today, but the portion about fentanyl, trade relations, and human rights stood out to me.

“We were very frank with Xi and his foreign minister,” Cassidy told The Dispatch. “They have a perspective, and they did not shrink from their perspective. But on the other hand—my gosh—there have been tensions rising between our two countries. We don’t want to have war, and the way you hopefully prevent war is by first developing some line of communication. And I think we successfully, at least for the moment, did that.”

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.