Jim Jordan Wrestles With a New Twenty
Like Kevin McCarthy before him, Jim Jordan is trying to wrestle the Speaker’s gavel from twenty holdouts.
Ten months ago, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, then the Republican nominee for Speaker of the House, had to cut a deal with twenty conservative holdouts, nicknamed “the Twenty,” to become Speaker. McCarthy’s potential replacement, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, is now dealing with a new, very different Twenty. While McCarthy was dogged by the House Freedom Caucus and friends, Jordan faces a blob of establishment-type Republicans composed mostly of appropriators, warmongers, and liberals.
After a week of closed-door conference meetings, media sniping, and back-room dealing, House Republicans took the fight over who will replace McCarthy as Speaker of the House to the floor. The first round of voting Tuesday revealed that there is a path for Jordan to become the leader of the Republican-controlled chamber, but it is nonetheless uphill, narrow, and treacherous.
The push to shed light on where things currently stand with the House GOP’s search for a new Speaker was headed by none other than Jordan. On Friday, Jordan became House Republicans’ nominee after Rep. Steve Scalise, who was unwilling to take the fight to the floor, withdrew his name from consideration. After the Republican caucus voted Jordan as their Speaker nominee on Friday in a 124-81 vote over Georgia’s Rep. Austin Scott, who threw his hat in the ring just to give Jordan objectors an alternative.
When the House Republican conference took another vote asking if members would support Jordan if a vote came to the floor, Jordan’s opposition dropped to 55 members. It’s worth mentioning that Scott said he’d be willing to vote for Jordan on the floor.
Before House Republicans voted on the new Speaker on Tuesday, the Ohioan and his allies had to identify the ringleaders of the opposition and smoke them out. Meanwhile, gettable votes had to be courted and their concerns assuaged. In the words of staunch Jordan ally Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee to POLITICO last weekend, “what is going to happen is, they are going to vote on the floor, and then they hear from the grassroots.”
Intense opposition was mounting against a more conservative Speaker of the House by weak-kneed Republicans even before Jordan secured the nomination. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama left a Republican conference meeting Thursday in a huff, though his temper wasn’t so unchecked as it was in January when he had to be restrained from assaulting Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Upon his departure, the Armed Services Committee Chairman told members of the media that he would be willing to hear out what concessions House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Democrats would need to help elect a new Speaker. As Rogers openly courted Democrats, he repeatedly labeled the eight Republicans who voted for McCarthy’s ousting “traitors.” One has to wonder what that makes Rogers.
“The bottom line is we have a very fractured conference, and to limit ourselves to just getting 217 out of our conference, I think, is not a wise path,” Rogers said, according to NBC News. The Alabama Congressman added that Democratic votes could be “absolutely” necessary for electing a new Speaker, but “they haven’t offered jack.” Nevertheless, Rogers promised some Republicans were “willing to work with them, but they gotta tell us what they need.” Later, once the conference voted Jordan as the new nominee, Rogers reportedly claimed there was nothing Jordan could do to win his vote.
Given the circumstances, Jordan’s tactics have not been so rough-and-tumble as some might have expected. Once Jordan secured the nomination and made it clear he was willing to take the fight to the floor, he reportedly encouraged skeptics and holdouts to talk with him about their concerns. An unnamed source told POLITICO that in each of these conversations, the skeptical member walked away supporting Jordan.
Though Jordan himself took the expression “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar” to heart in his personal strategy to whip up votes, some of his allies have been playing hardball. Fox News’ Sean Hannity even got involved. Hannity’s team was reportedly sending queries to Jordan holdouts saying, “Hannity would like to know why during a war breaking out between Israel and Hamas, with the war in Ukraine, with the wide open borders, with a budget that’s unfinished why would Rep xxxx be against Rep Jim Jordan for speaker?”
On Sunday, Juliegrace Brufke, Axios’s Capitol Hill reporter, tweeted a photo of the query template and added, “Moderates are growing increasingly irritated with the tactics Jordan allies are using to pressure them into voting for him…. One lawmaker said the push is counterproductive to swaying Jordan skeptics.”
One such skeptic was Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana. She voiced her disapproval of tactics employed by an unlikely member from among Jordan’s allies: Kevin McCarthy. In a statement that Spartz reportedly read aloud to the House Republican conference, she said, “I voted to support Jim Jordan in conference, but what happened Friday night is not acceptable. After undermining Steve and appearing to make some kind of a deal with Jim, Kevin forced the conference to adjourn and announced that Jim Jordan was going to be our speaker next week. Unfortunately, Jim did not object to Kevin, as also on a few other occasions as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.”
“Republicans are not sheep and will refuse to support [Jordan] if he will try to use the same McCarthy intimidation techniques on members on the floor, even if I have to run again, so McCarthy and his friends have a chance to primary me,” the statement concluded.
By Monday morning, however, a considerable bulk of Jordan’s opposition had mostly fallen apart. Rogers’ effort to deny Jordan the gavel by courting House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries was in ruins. The Alabama Congressman crawled back to his side of the aisle and endorsed Jordan after the pair had “two cordial, thoughtful, and productive conversations” over the weekend, according to a tweet from Rogers. Rogers added the pair, “agreed on the need for Congress to pass a strong NDAA, appropriations to fund our government’s vital functions, and other important legislation like the Farm Bill.” One concession that Jordan may have reportedly made to more hawkish members of the Republican conference is tying aid to Israel to an increase in funding to secure the southern border.
Beyond Rogers, Reps. Ken Calvert of California and Ann Wagner of Missouri, previously thought to be “Never Jordan” votes, provided some truth to the claim that Jordan’s whip strategy was working when they endorsed Jordan based on conversations they had with the Republican nominee for Speaker. “Keeping America safe is my top priority in Congress,” Calvert tweeted. “After having a conversation with Jim Jordan about how we must get the House back on a path to achieve our national security and appropriations goals, I will be supporting him for Speaker on the floor. Let’s get to work.”
Other Jordan holdouts continued to get behind Jordan over the weekend. Rep. Robert Aderholt, a member of the crucial Appropriations Committee, came out publicly in support of Jordan’s bid. Reps. Drew Ferguson, Rob Wittman, and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul also announced that they would be voting for Jordan on the House floor.
Nevertheless, Jordan still had considerable opposition. Rep. Carlos Gimenez of California continued to pledge his support to McCarthy, the former Speaker who has since gotten behind Jordan. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas hinted he would withhold his support and again floated the idea of centrist Republicans working with Democrats on a deal for a consensus Speaker.
When it came time to vote for a new Speaker on Tuesday, Gimenez and Womack were among the Republicans who voted for candidates not named Jim Jordan; yet Jordan had more than halved the opposition bloc that was 55 members strong on Friday.
It was highly unlikely that Jordan was going to become Speaker on the first round of voting Tuesday. Beyond Gimenez, Reps. Don Bacon, Mike Lawler, Mike Kelly, and Mario Diaz-Balart were expected to be firm no’s. Womack hadn’t publicly announced he’d oppose Jordan, but he and Reps. Spartz, Ken Buck, John Rutherford, and others were considered to lean towards no.
Jordan can only afford to have four Republican defections. In round one, 20 Republicans voted against Jordan in favor of other Republican candidates—far fewer than 55, and the same number of Republicans who voted against McCarthy from ballots three to 11 in January. Jordan received 200 votes, Scalise got seven, McCarthy got six, former Rep. Lee Zeldin got three, and Reps. Thomas Massie, Mike Garcia, Tom Emmer, and Tom Cole each recorded one. Then there was Jeffries, who predictably received every Democratic vote with 212.
The Jordan holdouts predictably fell into four camps: foreign-policy hawks, swing-district Republicans, appropriators, and personal objectors.
Seven of the twenty Jordan objectors were members of the House Appropriations Committee. The massive committee, it is often said in Washington, behaves like a party unto itself. Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger was joined by committee representatives Womack, Diaz-Balart, Rutherford, Gonzales, Ellzey, and Simpson. A chief concern of these appropriators is their reported concern that Jordan will engage in fiscal brinkmanship with a shutdown coming down the pike on November 17.
The American Conservative asked Rep. Simpson why he voted for Scalise rather than Jordan in the first ballot Tuesday. “Two weeks ago, we watched eight so-called ‘Republicans’ work with Democrats to oust Speaker McCarthy,” a statement sent by Simpson’s team read. “The eight had no plan after their destructive vote—instead, their actions have stalled our critical appropriations process, paralyzed the House’s legislative business, and left Republicans looking like we are incapable of governing.” (If the appropriations process wasn’t “paralyzed” before McCarthy’s ouster, one has to wonder what word Simpson would use to describe it.)
“I have publicly stated that I would support the Republican nominee who receives a majority of Republican votes—last week, the Republican Conference went from supporting Speaker-Designee Scalise without giving Steve Scalise proper consideration on the House floor,” the statement continued. “I voted for Steve Scalise in the first round on the floor because he rightfully earned our conference nomination and deserved the opportunity to be considered before the full House of Representatives.”
The aforementioned Bacon and Gimenez, both members of the Armed Services Committee, were joined by two other committee members, Reps. Jen Kiggans and Nick LaLota. Though Jordan managed to sway the hawkish and apparently short-tempered Rogers, it appears that Rogers’s reach didn’t extend to all the members of committee, who are concerned that Jordan will not adequately arm Ukraine.
No surprise that the establishment types that fill the money and warmongering committees mostly voted for status-quo leadership candidates McCarthy and Scalise. There is some overlap in the groups, however. LaLota is not only a member of the Armed Services Committee but also from a Biden-won district. He and Reps. Lawler, Anthony D’Esposito, and Andrew Garbarino were Republican members from Biden-won districts that voted against Jordan.
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As for those who have personal objections to Jordan is the aforementioned Spartz, though her ire is directed mostly toward McCarthy, and Buck, who has beef with Jordan over the handling of antitrust and Big Tech legislation. Previously, Jordan chose Massie over Buck to lead the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust. Buck is ratcheting up his crusade, telling MSNBC that he expects Jordan to lose support in the next vote.
Buck will have to wait until Wednesday to see whether he’s right. After planning on having another vote Tuesday evening, Jordan and Republicans pushed the second round to 11 o’clock Wednesday morning. Thus far, however, it appears that Jordan has been able to flip one of his detractors: Rep. John James of Michigan, who cast the sole vote for Cole on Tuesday.
Just ten months ago, most of Jordan’s objectors decried the twenty who opposed McCarthy’s bid and wanted assurances on appropriations, border security, and committee work enshrined in the rules and personnel. The original Twenty’s fears came true. Now Jordan’s objectors are part of a different Twenty that stand between a Speaker nominee and the gavel; but with no clear principle holding them together, will they be as successful as the original Twenty? If they are, Jordan will only have himself to blame, and McCarthy comes out looking most impressive of all.