WASHINGTON (AP) — Voting for House speaker is underway Tuesday as Republicans try to elect firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan, elevating a chief ally of Donald Trump to a center seat of U.S. power and showing just how far the once hard-right flank has moved into the GOP mainstream.
After two weeks of angry Republican infighting since the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, the House vote has become a showdown for the gavel. At least a handful of holdout Republicans are refusing to give Jordan their votes, viewing the Ohio Republican as too extreme for the powerful position of House speaker, second in line to the presidency.
But with public pressure bearing down on lawmakers from Trump’s allies including Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, it’s unclear how long the holdouts can last. Jordan swiftly flipped dozens of detractors in a matter of days, shoring up reluctant Republicans who have few options left after McCarthy’s ouster.
“Jim Jordan will be a great speaker,” the former president said outside the courthouse in Manhattan, where he is facing business fraud charges. “I think he’s going to have the votes soon, if not today, over the next day or two.”
The political climb has been steep for Jordan, the combative Judiciary Committee chairman and a founding member of the right-flank Freedom Caucus. He is known more as a chaos agent than a skilled legislator, raising questions about how he would lead. Congress faces daunting challenges, risking a federal shutdown if it fails to fund the government and fielding President Joe Biden’s requests for aid to help Ukraine and Israel in the wars abroad.
To seize the gavel, Jordan will need almost the full majority of his colleagues behind him in a House floor vote, as Democrats are certain to back their own nominee, Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Making the official nominating speech was another top Trump ally, GOP conference chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who drew from the lessons of the Old Testament before declaring Jordan will be “We the People’s speaker.”
How do certain House Democrats feel about Jordan?
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic caucus chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar of California nominated Jeffries and warned that handing the speaker’s gavel to an “insurrection inciter” would be “a terrible message” at home and abroad.
Aguilar recited all the times Jordan voted against various measures — abortion access, government aid and others, Democrats chanting “He said no!”
As the somber roll call was underway, each lawmaker verbally announcing their choice, the holdouts quickly surfaced.
One, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a leader of the centrists, voted McCarthy, the ousted former speaker. Murmurs rippled through the chamber.
Upset that a small band of hard-liners have upended the House, Republicans have watched their majority control of the chamber descend into public infighting. All House business has ground to a halt.
With the House Republican majority narrowly held at 221-212, Jordan can afford to lose only a few votes to reach the 217 majority threshold, if there are no absences. While eight hard-right members ousted McCarthy, the holdouts this time range from seasoned legislators worried about governing to newer lawmakers from swing districts whose voters prefer Biden to Trump.
After a late-evening meeting Monday at the Capitol turned into a venting session of angry Republicans, Jordan acknowledged: “We’ve got a few more people to talk to, listen to.”
One holdout, Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, said Jordan’s role in the runup to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his refusal to admit that Biden, a Democrat, won the 2020 election remained an issue.
“Jim, at some point, if he’s going to lead this conference during the presidential election cycle and particularly in a presidential election year … is going to have to be strong and say Donald Trump didn’t win the election and we need to move forward,” Buck said.
But Jordan can rely on Trump’s support as well as pressure on colleagues from an army of grassroots activists who recognize him from cable news and fiery performances at committee hearings. Republicans say it will be hard for rank-and-file lawmakers to oppose him in a public floor vote.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who engineered McCarthy’s ouster by a handful of hard-liners, publicly praised each lawmaker who has flipped to Jordan’s column — and berated those who have not.
“Thank you Rep. Ann Wagner!” Gaetz posted on social media, after the Missouri Republican announced her support.
One by one, others also announced their support. Still, it could take multiple rounds during House floor voting, not unlike in January when it took McCarthy 15 ballots to win the gavel.
Democrats have decried the far-right shift, calling Jordan the leader of the chaos wing of the GOP.
The Democratic whip, Rep. Katherine Clark, said her party is trying to stop Republicans from putting “an insurrectionist in the speaker’s chair.”
Jordan has been a top Trump ally, particularly during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by the former president’s backers who were trying to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden. Days later, Trump awarded Jordan a Medal of Freedom.
“Jim Jordan is an insurrectionist who has no place being second in line to the presidency,” said Michael Fanone, a former District of Columbia police officer who was wounded fighting the mob on Jan. 6.
Now the Republican Party’s front-runner to challenge Biden in the 2024 election, Trump backed Jordan to replace McCarthy early on and was working against the nomination of Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who withdrew last week after colleagues rejected their own rules and failed to coalesce around him.
Not all Republicans are ready to give Jordan their vote
Tensions remained high among Republicans ahead of voting. Rank-and-file Republicans are exhausted by the internal party infighting with no other work being done in Congress.
Some Republicans resent being pressured by Jordan’s allies and say they are being threatened with primary opponents if they don’t support him as speaker. One aide said their office received an email from Hannity’s team pushing Jordan.
Others are simply upset at the way the whole process has dragged out. One, Scalise backer Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., began circulating an option to give Rep Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the interim speaker pro-tempore, more authority to lead.
“I think we still need conversations,” said Rep, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa.
First elected in 2006, Jordan has few bills to his name from his time in office. He also faces questions about his past. Some years ago, Jordan denied allegations from former wrestlers during his time as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University who accused him of knowing about claims they were inappropriately groped by an Ohio doctor. Jordan has said he was never aware of any abuse.