Jordan Inches Closer to Speaker’s Gavel after Weekend Pressure Campaign

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) departs the Capitol after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced he is dropping out of the race for speaker on Thursday.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the firebrand conservative from Ohio, appeared closer to becoming the next speaker of the House on Monday after mounting an aggressive pressure campaign over the weekend to gain the support of more than 50 Republican holdouts skeptical of his ability to lead the chamber.

If he takes the gavel, it would be a remarkable ascent for Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee chairman who built his political identity as a founding member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus and an attack dog for President Donald Trump who was once referred to as a “legislative terrorist.” He was a key ally in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and he defied a subpoena during the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But there are still members adamant in their opposition to Jordan, including some who plan to back former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). As House Republicans filed into another closed-door meeting in the Capitol on Monday night, at least 10 said they will not support Jordan on the first round of voting Tuesday or were undecided. Jordan can only afford to lose four votes on the floor.

Jordan, 59, on Friday became the second Republican in three days to win the conference’s nomination for speaker after the previous nominee, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), dropped out. Jordan immediately launched an intensive effort to flip the members who opposed his candidacy in a secret ballot.

An element of that pressure campaign is a public roll-call vote on the House floor that Jordan has scheduled for Tuesday, an attempt at daring his opponents to vote against him and incur the wrath of the far-right media and political ecosystem that is firmly behind him.

Several Republican lawmakers said that it is likely Jordan would lose in the first round of voting, but that some lawmakers left an opening to support him in a second or third round. However, if voting goes longer than three rounds, some Republicans said lawmakers may start nominating other people – meaning they will be making real-time decisions as options potentially expand.

“I felt good walking into the conference, I feel even better now,” Jordan said as he left the Monday night meeting. “We’ve got a few more people we want to talk to, listen to, and then we’ll have a vote tomorrow.”

The move to a floor vote without a guarantee that he has the support is a reversal from early last week. Jordan was reluctant to put the party through another embarrassing public spectacle that could further divide the group, vowing to only go to the floor if he firmly had the backing of 217 Republicans – give or take one or two depending on attendance – to win the speakership.

But Jordan and his allies spent the weekend deploying strong-arm tactics to persuade the dozens of holdouts. His right-wing supporters on social media urged conservatives to call their representative about voting for Jordan. Jordan’s close friend, Fox News host Sean Hannity, called at least one swing district Republican to push a vote for Jordan, the lawmaker said, speaking, like others, on the condition of anonymity to detail sensitive conversations.

Jordan and his allies are betting that holdout Republicans will view a public vote against Jordan on the House floor as too risky, likely to engage the MAGA base and possibly risk a primary challenge from the right.

His hardball tactics seemed to be working.

By midday Monday, the tide started to turn for Jordan as powerful and influential House Republicans started to announce their support. In a key development, Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would support Jordan after previously saying he would not. Rogers had been resistant to Jordan’s skepticism of ballooning defense spending and additional Ukraine aid. But Rogers, the target of an aggressive social media campaign over the weekend by Jordan supporters, said he received a commitment from Jordan “to fund our government’s vital functions.”

After Rogers went public with his support, the dam began to break. Fervent supporters of Scalise, previously angry over his treatment by the Ohio Republican during the speaker nomination process, came out in support of Jordan, including Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who said last week that she would never back Jordan. Her concerns have been “allayed,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who had been a Scalise ally, tweeted: “Just received a call from @Jim_Jordan and had a very productive conservation [sic]. I informed him that I will be offering my support on the House floor.”

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), a vulnerable swing-district Republican, shocked his colleagues when he announced he would back Jordan. “Let’s get to work,” he wrote on X, previously known as Twitter.

As he left Monday’s meeting, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would vote for Jordan after the two discussed possibly introducing a supplemental funding package that would include aid for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter sent to the Republican conference on Monday, Jordan urged members to unite behind him on Tuesday and promised to bring “all Republicans together” by acquiescing to some demands brought up in the numerous closed-door gatherings the House GOP has held over the past two weeks. Those meetings, held ostensibly to draw the conference together, have become grievance sessions in which members have repeatedly expressed displeasure at leadership.

“You’ve been honest and open, and I appreciate the candid conversations,” Jordan said in the letter. “The role of a Speaker is to bring all Republicans together. That’s what I intend to do.”

But Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said Monday he would not be intimidated into voting for Jordan as speaker. He has repeatedly said he will not support Jordan and instead will cast a vote for Scalise.

“If anybody is trying to get my vote, the last thing you want to do is try to intimate or pressure me, because then I close out entirely,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who will vote for Scalise, became visibly upset as he struggled to make sense of why “people who didn’t get their way” – as in those who ousted McCarthy and blocked Scalise – should expect lawmakers like him to fall in line.

“This has nothing to do with Jim Jordan. This has to do with the integrity of the House Republican conference,” he said. “I think when you go outside the rules of your own caucus because you didn’t get your way, I think that is truly sad. I think that’s an indictment of who you are.”

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said some lawmakers have raised concerns over Jordan’s denial of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“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,’ ” said Buck, who isn’t planning to support Jordan.

“I’m for Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.), who represents a district that leans Democratic. After he spoke with Jordan after Monday’s meeting, Lawler said his opinion had not changed.

Democrats are readying their political attacks and say that Jordan will be an effective foil to tie even more Republicans to a party that would be led by election deniers and extremists. Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, leading the rest of the field by double digits in polling.

House Majority Forward, a political nonprofit working to elect Democrats to the House, has launched robocalls in 11 Republicans lawmakers’ districts – most of them swing ones – to urge recipients to call their representative and tell them to vote against Jordan, pointing out his “extreme agenda.” Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.), who was being targeted, rebuffed the effort, saying, “My district knows me as Juan. They know they didn’t elect a politician to be their representative but their neighbor. So that’s why whoever the speaker is, they know who I am.”

Some Republicans privately acknowledged that they could lose their fragile majority. But, they argue, it may be a worthwhile risk to reopen the House and begin legislating.

Jordan, who joined the House in 2007, has been a stalwart of the hard right. He previously served as chair of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative House members. The Ohio lawmaker also was one of eight House members who served on Trump’s defense team during the president’s first impeachment trial in the Senate. Before he left office, Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor. Jordan now chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee, a role that has allowed him to launch investigations into President Biden.

If Jordan is elected as speaker on Tuesday, the House will end a two-week period of instability that has virtually frozen legislative procedure even as the mid-November deadline for a government shutdown nears.

Jordan’s strategy to flip his opponents was more stick than carrot. “Jordan’s team has the knives out,” said one House Republican who represents a swing district.

Still, Jordan’s tactics may be leaving a sour taste in the mouths of some moderate and swing-district Republicans who over the weekend voiced wariness over the intensity of the pressure campaign.

“Pressure makes people furious but also gets them to ‘yes,'” another Republican lawmaker said.

Jordan’s allies insisted that the consternation would be worth it, if only to realign Republican leadership’s priorities.

“This town lives on assurances that it’s going to be the status quo, that everything’s going to keep on going,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the Freedom Caucus. “The American people are sick of that. If there’s going to be a little upheaval here so that the American people get what they asked for, that’s important.”