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Jim Jordan’s Power Play for the Speaker’s Gavel
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Jim Jordan’s Power Play for the Speaker’s Gavel

He failed one vote on Tuesday, but will force another on Wednesday.

Rep. Jim Jordan listens to nomination speeches for speaker of the House Tuesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Good evening. We’re sorry for the late edition of this newsletter. On a busy day on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress didn’t even know what would unfold, we thought it better to help you make sense of the day after events unfolded rather than trying to consult a crystal ball beforehand. With that, let’s get to it.

When it comes to electing party leadership, members of Congress typically support colleagues they believe can advance a legislative agenda while guarding the personal relationships they’ve built over time. They want leaders who know individual members’ electoral vulnerabilities and try to protect them. For the speaker of the House, that means elevating the rank-and-file’s legislative priorities, fundraising for reelection campaigns, and, sometimes, keeping members of your conference from having to take uncomfortable votes.

That hasn’t been GOP Rep. Jim Jordan’s reputation. As a founding member of the insurgent House Freedom Caucus, Jordan for years had been seen by many House Republicans as an antagonistic, far-right wrecking ball. Sure, he’s grown closer to his colleagues over the past six years, as most of the party united around former President Donald Trump. And as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Jordan has gained more experience exercising authority than his earlier terms in the House.

But as the Ohio Republican seeks the speakership this week, it’s become clear he still doesn’t understand—or isn’t willing to accept—what it takes to lead in the House. Rather than convincing members he’s on their side, Jordan and his allies have alienated Republicans with what some members saw as intimidation tactics.

The implicit message, leading up to Tuesday’s vote: Elect Jordan, or face The American People’s wrath.

That approach didn’t work on Tuesday, when 20 Republicans voted against Jordan’s speakership bid on the House floor. He could only afford to lose three Republicans during that vote, with one member out for a funeral. He’s far from winning the support he needs, and his failure Tuesday could embolden more Republicans who harbor reservations about him to seek a different candidate. But Jordan and his allies are betting the members who opposed him will cave in another vote Wednesday.

“It won’t be, like, 15 rounds in rapid succession like we had in January,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, “because I don’t think any of these 20 have the stomach for forcing that vote over and over, even though they probably could.”

He predicted Jordan will pick up half a dozen votes in the second ballot. As someone who has frequently split with GOP leaders, Massie added that he’s been “through the meat grinder” of pushback that Jordan’s opponents are facing tonight. “It’s not the pressure from the direction you expect it to come from,” he said. “It’s the pressure from people who are closest to you, not people you don’t know, that’s really the toughest.”

Those conversations are happening in private, between members. But Jordan’s critics are continuing to face pressure from voters, according to Rep. Chip Roy, another Jordan ally. “We all have to, you know, look at our constituents in the eye and tell them why we do something,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens over the course of the day.”

Even so, Jordan’s opponents might not budge.

“The one thing that will never work with me—if you try to pressure me, if you try to threaten me, then I shut off,” Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who opposed Jordan, told Politico on Tuesday.

Jordan’s critics have varying reasons for their stances. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, for example, doesn’t want to reward Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the effort to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this month.

“I don’t want to make it personal with Jim, but how we got here is a travesty and we’re rewarding bad behavior,” Bacon told The Dispatch on Monday. He added that the GOP conference can’t let a handful of members control it. Bacon has faced fury online for his position, and his wife has even received anonymous texts and emails urging her to convince him to support Jordan.

Others from swing districts likely don’t believe a Jordan speakership would help them keep their seats in 2024. Some defense hawks are concerned about whether he will allow further aid to Ukraine to pass the House. Rep. Ken Buck, meanwhile, has said he takes issue with Jordan’s rejection of the 2020 presidential election results. 

“If you don’t have the moral fortitude to clearly state your position and either take grief from Donald Trump or take grief from the other side, then you don’t deserve to be speaker, in my mind,” Buck said on The Dispatch Podcast last week.

Some of Jordan’s opponents simply don’t trust his ability to govern—a fair concern about someone who’s done the opposite of governing for more than a decade. (Since joining the chamber in 2007, Jordan has never had one of his bills signed into law, although the House has agreed to two resolutions he’s introduced.)

If Jordan loses further GOP votes on the second ballot, some members may instead push to grant interim Speaker Patrick McHenry more power, like the ability to bring bills to the floor. Former House speakers Newt Gingrich and John Boehner both endorsed that idea Tuesday night.

Democrats said Tuesday they are open to it. Members might also consider rallying around a consensus speaker—someone who can win support from both parties. That outcome has appeared unlikely, but it becomes more plausible the longer the GOP conference’s dysfunction drags on.

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said Tuesday night he hopes to find a bipartisan path forward. When The Dispatch asked about the logistics of that—does he mean five or six Republicans should vote for him, or that Democrats are willing to vote for someone they view as a responsible Republican—Jeffries didn’t specify.

“The Republicans now hold the gavel. We recognize that. We respect that,” Jeffries said. “But the Republicans are unable to function on their own right now. So there’s only two paths. Either you’re going to continue to bend the knee to the most extreme members of your conference who are not interested in governing, or you can partner with Democrats to do the business of the American people.”

On the Floor

The House is trying to pull itself together. Senators, meanwhile, are considering nominations. You can keep up with floor activity throughout the week here.

Key Hearings

Take this schedule with a grain of salt, because business on the House side might be a bit of a mess this week.

  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Wednesday morning for Jacob Lew, President Joe Biden’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. Information and livestream here.
  • A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and a House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee will meet Wednesday morning for two different hearings on artificial intelligence. Information and livestreams here and here.
  • The House Homeland Security Committee is scheduled for a hearing on threats posed by Iran. Information and livestream here.
  • Members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic plan to meet Wednesday morning to examine bioresearch and safety. Information and livestream here.
  • Officials from several aerospace firms will testify before senators Wednesday afternoon on safety and competition in the human spaceflight industry. Information and livestream here.
  • A House panel that deals with early childhood education will meet Thursday morning for a hearing on explicit content in school libraries. Information and livestream here.
  • A House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee will meet Thursday morning to discuss therapies that may prevent suicide. Information and livestream here.
  • The Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on Israel and Ukraine. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.