Politics / October 19, 2023

Another One Bites the Dust

Jim Jordan Bites the Dust

Two weeks after Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speaker of the House, the Ohio representative has failed twice to win enough votes to secure the position.

Chris Lehmann
Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) arrives at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building on October 19, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) arrives at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building on October 19, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

No, not Jim Jordan either. A chaos-ridden House Republican caucus tried to pull itself together to elect the shouty, coup-plotting chair of the Judiciary Committee its new speaker on Wednesday, after he came up 20 votes short in the Tuesday balloting. The net result of their efforts was that Jordan got two more “no” votes from Republican House members. If he was banking on the second vote to showcase his knack for persuasion, legislative bargaining, and vote counting—all indispensable skills for a House speaker—Jordan can be deemed a complete failure. That verdict was sealed on Thursday, when the House pulled the plug on a third vote that Jordan was clearly destined to lose by a still wider margin. He then threw his support behind granting Pro Tempore Speaker Patrick McHenry of North Carolina powers to move resolutions and legislation forward.

This was a rare step back from the abyss for House Republicans, given that Jordan is the moral equivalent of a Superfund site. The Ohio congressman not only was in close strategic contact with Trump administration Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the calamitous countdown to the MAGA insurrection on January 6; he has also defied his subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack for over a year. He’s also been an obliging outlet for high-conspiratorial Trumpist outrage, from Hunter Biden derangement syndrome to rampant Covid denialism. It’s been enough of a mindfuck for the republic, over the past nine months, to endure his conversion of the Judiciary Committee into a running show trial for senior law enforcement officials deemed insufficiently obsequious to the MAGA cause. But putting Jordan in a position to dictate the nation’s budgets, policy priorities, and committee assignments—all while being second in line to the presidency—would be an act of extreme nihilism, even for a House majority that’s already displayed breathtaking levels of nihilism-tolerance. (This is all to say nothing, by the way, of Jordan’s shameful bystander role in the Ohio State wrestling team’s sexual abuse scandal while he was the team’s assistant coach from 1987 to 1995.)

But as Wednesday’s vote demonstrated, Jordan’s sole saving grace is his utter ineffectualness. During his 16-year tenure in the House, he’s failed to get a single bill ratified. His behind-the-scenes efforts to flip the detractors in Tuesday’s vote his way underlined his trademark bullying-and-berating MO. Jordan supporters anonymously harassed the wife of Nebraska Representative Don Bacon via text and e-mail, threatening his career prospects if he failed to fall in line behind their candidate. (Bacon remained a no in Wednesday’s roll call vote, casting his ballot once more for deposed speaker Kevin McCarthy.) Jordan personally distanced himself from these strong-arm tactics and issued a call for unity within the caucus on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. But GOP dissenters properly called out such anemic stabs at damage control for what they were. “He’s lost support because of this,” one Republican lawmaker told Politico. “Constant smears—it’s just dishonesty at its core.” Florida GOP Representative Jim Rutherford went on record with the same sentiment: Jordan is “absolutely responsible for it,” he told Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Alemany. “And look, it doesn’t work… nobody likes to have their arm twisted.”

Iowa GOP Representative Marinette Miller-Meeks issued a statement late Wednesday reporting that after she’d joined the nays on Jordan’s second speakership vote, casting a ballot for Appropriations Chair Kay Granger of Texas when it was clear Jordan wasn’t going to win a majority within the caucus, she “received credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls,” which she duly reported to “the proper authorities.” A Jordan spokesman denounced the threats, but this was yet another belated effort to downplay an ugly MAGA putsch for power entirely in line with both Jordan’s and Donald Trump’s vicious and demagogic leadership of the GOP. McCarthy sold his soul to Freedom Caucus obstructionists in his bid to claim the toxic prize of the speakership during January’s 15 vote marathon; Jordan made it clear long ago that he has no soul to sell.

In Wednesday’s roll-call vote, Jordan’s team sought to paper over its thuggish performance, tapping Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, who’d led the pro-McCarthy forces in the motion-to-vacate vote two weeks ago, to place Jordan’s name into consideration. Cole gamely referred to Jordan’s “integrity” and even included a reference to his wrestling-coach past, as if to dare detractors to go after him anew. Cole also cited the White House’s request for aid to Israel as cause for an expeditious vote to approve Jordan, while hailing the former Freedom Caucus member as a reliable advocate for entitlement-cutting. But Cole’s heart clearly wasn’t in it—as California Representative Pete Aguilar noted as he nominated minority leader Hakeem Jeffries for the speakership, the Oklahoma lawmaker failed even to mention the status of funding for the Ukraine war effort. Jordan, a longtime skeptic of such funding, had reportedly agreed to permit a separate floor vote on the outlay, which was left on the cutting-room floor as part of McCarthy’s fateful continuing resolution deal to avert a government shutdown.

Oh, right: The government is rapidly careening toward the next deadline for a budget deal in mid-November, and it’s far from clear at the moment who might have the authority to reach another such accord. (McCarthy, in his desperation to keep his job, sought to blame Democrats for the raging dysfunction of his caucus in September’s budget negotiations, which proved to be no small factor in his implosion—it’s a safe bet that a GOP caucus unable to identify a viable McCarthy successor won’t be able to float that outlandish alibi again.)

The collapse of the last-ditch Jordan campaign puts House Republicans on a streamlined course to bestow new authority on McHenry. This would be an unprecedented move, and it still will involve no small amount of persuasion directed at McHenry, who has stayed mum on the question as he’s pushed to get new speaker votes lined up. The McHenry option also would likely have to command support among House Democrats, who could end up supplying the decisive margin if the GOP caucus remains deadlocked. In this scenario, the absurdist spectacle of GOP House rule will have come full circle, since it was collaboration with Democratic lawmakers that was McCarthy’s unforgivable sin for GOP hard-liners like Matt Gaetz. Still, McHenry does have one undeniable qualification to lead the House Republican Party: He’s been bitten by a rabid fox and lived to tell the tale.

Update: In a further stirring display of his utter unsuitability to return Congress to anything like regular order, Jordan reversed himself late Thursday and said he would schedule a third vote on his speakership, after all. Presumably his backers have put in a mass order for brass knuckles on Amazon Prime.

Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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