Jim Jordan Could Have a Long Fight Ahead

Updated at 3:46 p.m. ET on October 17, 2023

On Friday, immediately after nominating Representative Jim Jordan as their latest candidate for speaker, House Republicans took a second, secret-ballot vote. The question put to each lawmaker was simple: Would you support Jordan in a public vote on the House floor?

The results were not encouraging for the pugnacious Ohioan. Nearly a quarter of the House Republican conference—55 members—said they would not back Jordan. Given the GOP’s threadbare majority, he could afford to lose no more than three Republicans on the vote. Jordan’s bid seemed to be fizzling even faster than that of Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, whose nomination earlier in the week lasted barely a day before he bowed out in the face of opposition from within the party.

Yet, by this afternoon, Jordan had flipped dozens of holdouts to put himself closer to winning the speakership. The 55 Republicans who said last week that they wouldn’t support him had dwindled to 20 when the House voted this afternoon. He earned a total of 200 votes on the floor; he’ll need 217 to win. Jordan will now try to replicate the strategy that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy used to capture the top House post in January: wearing down his opposition, vote by painful vote. It took McCarthy 15 ballots to secure the speakership, but Jordan may not need that many. The Republicans who voted against him on the floor have not displayed the defiance that characterized the conservatives who overthrew McCarthy. Several of them have told reporters that they could be persuaded to vote for Jordan, or would not stand in the way if he neared the threshold of 217 votes needed to win.

Should he secure those final votes, Jordan’s election would represent a major victory for the GOP hardliners who, led by Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, toppled McCarthy with the hope of replacing him with a more combative, ideological conservative. The switch would also give Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan, something he’s never had in his seven years as the Republican Party’s official and unofficial standard-bearer: a House speaker fully committed to his cause. Although McCarthy and the previous GOP speaker, Paul Ryan, accommodated the former president, Jordan has been his champion; as documented by the House committee on January 6, Jordan was deeply involved in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election and urged then–Vice President Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes from states that Trump was contesting.

His election would look a lot like Trump’s, each the result of establishment Republicans falling in line with a leader many of them swore they’d never support. Throughout Trump’s four years in the White House, GOP lawmakers, aides, and even members of the Cabinet sharply criticized the president in private, either to reporters or to their own colleagues, while offering unequivocal support and praise in public. That dynamic played out for Jordan this afternoon, when the floor vote revealed that dozens of the Republicans who’d opposed him in a secret ballot were unwilling to put their names against him on the record.

Some of them had made awkward public reversals in the run-up to the vote. On Thursday, Representative Ann Wagner of Missouri was asked whether she would back Jordan in a floor vote. “HELL NO,” she told Scott Wong of NBC News. By Monday morning, she was saying that Jordan had “allayed my concerns about keeping the government open” and securing the southern border; she would vote for him. One by one, other senior Republicans who had initially said that they were determined to block Jordan’s ascent—Representatives Mike Rogers of Alabama, Ken Calvert of California, Vern Buchanan of Florida among them—declared that they, too, had come around.

By this afternoon, however, Jordan was still well short of the votes he needed. “I was surprised at the number. I think everyone was surprised,” Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a Jordan supporter, told reporters after the vote. The big question now is whether Jordan can close the gap on subsequent ballots, or whether the small cadre of Republican holdouts will grow into a more formidable bloc against his candidacy. The safer assumption seemed to be that Jordan’s opposition would melt away. After all, this group of Republicans is a different breed than the recalcitrant conservatives who forced out McCarthy. The anti-Jordan contingent is, if not ideologically moderate, then far more pragmatic and committed to stable governance than the anti-McCarthy faction.

The lack of a House speaker for the past two weeks has paralyzed the chamber in the middle of ballooning domestic and international crises. The federal government will shut down a month from today if no action is taken by Congress, which has been unable to offer more assistance to either Israel or Ukraine in their respective wars with Hamas and Russia. A number of Jordan skeptics have cited the upheaval outside the Capitol as a rationale for resolving the impasse inside the dome, even if it means voting for a conservative they consider ill-suited to lead.

Democrats believed that the election of such a polarizing Republican could, along with the general collapse of governance by the GOP, help them recapture the chamber next year. But they were appalled that Republicans might elevate to the speakership a far-right ideologue many of them have labeled an insurrectionist. A former wrestler who brought a fighter’s mentality to Congress, Jordan rose to prominence as an antagonist of former Republican Speaker John Boehner a decade ago, pushing against bipartisan cooperation. “He is the worst possible choice,” Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a 25-year veteran of the House, told me before the vote.

Jordan’s record, and the possibility that he would be an electoral vulnerability for the GOP, was clearly weighing on Republicans before the vote. As he walked into the chamber shortly after noon, Representative Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican who represents a swing district on Long Island, told reporters that he still hadn’t decided how to vote. He ultimately joined 19 other GOP lawmakers in backing someone other than Jordan. Other mainstream Republicans justified their vote for Jordan on the grounds that he alone had the credibility to persuade far-right Republicans to avert a government shutdown in the coming weeks and months. “If he says it, they think it’s a strategic move. If I say it, they call me a RINO,” one Republican told me on the condition of anonymity after voting for Jordan.

By the end of the vote, as many Republicans had opposed Jordan as had initially tried to block McCarthy in January, before the former speaker embarked on a five-day period of private lobbying and dealmaking to win the gavel. It was unclear whether Jordan would be able to do the same. He appeared relaxed as he sat through the nearly hour-long roll call, showing little reaction as his defections mounted. When the vote ended, he huddled with supporters, including McCarthy, and the House, having failed once more to elect a speaker, recessed so Republicans could figure out their next move.

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