As reporters chased Jim Jordan down a hallway shortly before yesterday’s vote, he declared himself “confident” of winning the speaker’s job.
He wouldn’t say if he had enough support or how many rounds of voting he was prepared to endure.
His confidence wasn’t enough. With 20 Republicans voting for others – even though Jordan’s opponents couldn’t find a protest candidate to run – he lost the first round.
Actually, it was quite a feat for the Judiciary Committee chairman to lose by that margin – he could only afford three defectors – since he’d only gotten 124 votes in the GOP’s secret ballot, far short of the magic number of 217. Since a few of the converts had vowed to never, ever back Jordan, that highlighted his skill at winning over members.
His strongest argument at the moment may well be that with the speaker’s job vacant for nearly two weeks since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster, the House remains paralyzed, unable to vote even on such urgent issues as military aid to Israel.
Still, for Jordan to come this close to the speakership speaks volumes about the direction of the Republican Party. He is a fiery lawmaker who can dominate hearings, extremely conservative, and leading the impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Deemed part of the GOP’s fringe a few years ago, he’s now closer to the center of gravity.
Jordan, who is backed by Donald Trump, was very active in trying to block the Electoral College certification of Biden, both before and in the hours after the Capitol riot. One Jordan opponent, Ken Buck, said he couldn’t support a man who doesn’t recognize Biden’s election as legitimate.
More horse-trading must now be under way. The onetime wrestling coach would have to flip 17 of the 20 no votes against him, which seems a tall order. McCarthy, who was ousted in less than nine months, lost only eight Republicans.
Keep in mind that some GOP Republican moderates, especially in districts won by Biden, do not want Jordan to become the face of the party.
Face it, this is a crazy system. Whoever gets the most votes in the closed-door caucus should garner all the party’s votes in an attempt at unity. But then, Majority Leader Steve Scalise would have been speaker after beating Jordan. Instead, he pulled out of the race. But equally crazy is the concession that allowed any single member to move to fire McCarthy.
As a practical matter, what would happen if Jordan became speaker? He was part of the hard-right faction that didn’t want to compromise with Democrats on the debt-ceiling fight or the threatened government shutdown – and it was by avoiding both that McCarthy lost his job.
But as the new leader, Jordan would probably have to agree to a stopgap funding measure. That’s the difference between leading and protesting: you have an obligation to the institution. Though many on the Hill believe the rebels have no interest in governing.
Some dealmaking undoubtedly followed the first round, but some tough talk as well. Jordan allies have told wavering members that if they don’t hop on the bandwagon, they will face a primary challenge from the right, which is every Republican’s nightmare. Rep. Byron Donalds told Fox the pressure tactics may have backfired.
One pitch that Jordan is said to be making to moderates is that as a certified right-winger, he can give them cover to vote for certain issues without their being denounced by conservative media. Whether that would work in the real world is an open question.
Jordan had planned a second-round vote late yesterday but postponed it until today, a clear sign he doesn’t have the votes.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and nobody seems able to win this thankless job.