Hard-right Jim Jordan lost the first vote to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives this Tuesday. However, Jordan — an ally of Donald Trump who was singled out by the House committee that investigated the assault on the Capitol for his role in trying to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections — is very close to achieving the majority needed to succeed the ousted Kevin McCarthy. The House will have to continue voting until Jordan or another candidate achieves a majority (217 votes). After the first vote, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Patrick McHenry, called for a recess. The second vote is expected to be on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, the House remains paralyzed.
The Trump loyalist from Ohio received 200 votes, which left him 17 votes short of winning the speakership, since there are currently two vacancies and the House has 433 voting members. The 20 or so Republicans who voted against Jordan all come from districts where Biden won the 2020 elections. If they vote for the hardliner, they may be perceived as extremists, which could cost them their seats in the November 5, 2024, elections, when Americans will vote for all 435 seats in the House and one third of the Senate, as well as the president.
Jim Jordan, 59, helped create the Freedom Caucus, which represents the hard-right faction of the Republican Party. He was the first chairman of that group, between 2015 and 2017, and its vice-chairman since then. Since this year, he also chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He is a hardliner who is systematically opposed to public spending, who defends a federal ban on abortion throughout the country, and who refused to recognize Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
His rise represents a triumph of the blackmail to which the hard-wing faction of the GOP has subjected the rest of the party. That same handful of hardliners brought down Kevin McCarthy. Then, after an internal vote, Steve Scalise emerged as the candidate to replace him. That should have paved his way for his election as speaker. However, he threw in the towel when it became clear he would not have enough votes to win the speakership. Finally, Jim Jordan won the nomination in a new internal vote.
Although it is customary for the House speaker to be elected in the first ballot, it took McCarthy 15 rounds before he achieved his dream of taking the speaker’s gavel in January. Back then, Trump’s pressure served to unlock the gridlock and get McCarthy elected. Not wanting to repeat that spectacle, the Republican conference wanted to name a consensus candidate. An internal vote showed that Jordan did not have the necessary support, but since then the Ohio congressman and his supporters have managed to convince (with arguments and pressure) a good part of the moderates to support his bid. In the end, Jordan preferred to lose the first vote in order to expose those who oppose his election.
The nomination of the Republican candidate was presented by Elise Stefanik, Congresswoman from New York, who used her speech to criticize Joe Biden and present the apocalyptic vision of America to which the Trumpists subscribe. She has presented Jordan as a “patriot” and “an America-first warrior” and made reference to his past as a sports wrestler.
The Democrats, for their part, nominated Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries for the speakership. The New York congressman received the most votes during the first round (212), but still fell short of the necessary majority. “We are here because the House has been thrown into chaos. We are here because this hallowed chamber has been led to a breaking point by two dangerous forces: extremism and partisanship,” Democrat Pete Aguilar said on the floor before launching into a blistering critique of Jordan.
“A vote today to make the architect of a nationwide abortion ban, a vocal election denier, and an insurrection insider the speaker of this House would be a terrible message to the country and our allies,” he said. “We are talking about someone who has spent his entire career trying to hold our country back: putting our national security in danger, attempting government shutdown after government shutdown, wasting taxpayer dollars on baseless investigations with dead ends, authoring the very bill that would ban abortion nationwide without exceptions, and inciting violence in this chamber. Even leaders of his own party have called him a ‘legislative terrorist,’” he added.
Jordan raises suspicions in his party for his ultra-conservative profile, but also for his refusal to recognize Biden’s electoral triumph in 2020. “Jim Jordan was involved in Trump’s conspiracy to steal the election and seize power; he urged that Pence refuse to count lawful electoral votes. If Republicans nominate Jordan to be Speaker, they will be abandoning the Constitution. They’ll lose the House majority, and they’ll deserve to,” tweeted last week former Rep. Liz Cheney, a leading figure on the congressional committee that investigated the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurgence.
One person who strongly supports him, though, is the former president. “Jim Jordan will be a great speaker,” Trump said Tuesday outside the Manhattan courthouse where he faces charges of corporate fraud. “I think he’ll have the votes soon, if not today in a day or two,” he added.
“Jim Jordan is an insurrectionist who has no place being second in line to the presidency. I witnessed the deadly assault on our democracy with my own eyes, which is why it absolutely disgusts me that extreme Republicans could choose an insurrectionist and election denier as their leader — someone who knew about January 6th ahead of time yet did nothing to stop it,” said in a statement former police officer Michael Fanone, one of those injured in the assault on the Capitol.
Electing a hard-right House speaker such as Jordan would increase the risk of political deadlock in an already divided Congress. The Senate has a Democratic majority of 51 to 49. In the House, Republicans have a slim majority (221 to 212). The passing of any legislation requires a majority in both. At two decisive moments, McCarthy bet on reaching agreements with the Democrats. First, to suspend the debt ceiling and prevent the government from defaulting on its debt; which sparked a rebellion within his party as a group of hardliners began to question his leadership. Then again to approve a temporary budget extension to avoid a federal government shutdown; that cost him his job. For the first time ever, a speaker was removed after a motion to vacate, presented, by a member of his own party, Rep. Matt Gaetz.
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