For decades, electing the speaker of the House of Representatives had been a formality, almost procedural. The party that held the majority in the chamber would meet, vote among its candidates, and close ranks with the preferred one. However, the far-right wing of the Republican Party broke with that tradition in January when it elected Kevin McCarthy as speaker, continued to disrespect it last week by not accepting the nomination of Steve Scalise, and now, it is tasting its own medicine. Moderate Republicans have stood up to what several party congressmen have called “a coup” and rejected for a second day giving the speakership to hardliner Jim Jordan, a Trump loyalist.
As a state wrestling champion in his native Ohio, Jordan racked up an impressive record of 156 wins to just one loss while in high school. As a candidate for speaker of the House of Representatives, he already has two defeats to his name. On the second ballot, he again fell short of the 217 votes he needed to be elected speaker. On Tuesday he obtained 200 votes from within his party; a day later — 199. A total of 22 members of his party turned their backs on him. Once again, Democrat Hakeem Jeffries won the most votes (212), but still fell short of reaching the necessary majority.
To overcome the legislative impasse caused by the absence of a speaker, Democrats have proposed granting limited powers to Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, who took the speaker’s gavel when McCarthy was ousted. The initiative could be voted on as early as Wednesday. The idea is that the House could resume functioning even without a permanent Speaker. With this, the House could avert a looming federal government shutdown next month when a stopgap measure approved a few weeks ago expires. The chamber could also approve an aid package for Ukraine and Israel that President Joe Biden plans to request as soon as it is feasible.
Jordan, 59, has encountered pushback from moderate Republicans who oppose his election on a variety of grounds. Some represent districts with a centrist constituency, where Biden won in the 2020 election, and believe electing a Trump-allied election denier could make them lose their seats in the 2024 elections. Others, primarily from the House Budget Committee, see in Jordan an enemy of government spending, even when it is to deal with emergencies and natural disasters. Some simply refuse to elect a congressman who was singled out by the committee investigating the assault on the U.S. Capitol for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurgence. Jordan defended Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Moderate Republicans have been pressured by their hard-right colleagues and conservative media to kowtow to the Trumpist candidate, who has not signed a single bill in Congress in his more than 16 years as a legislator. He has been more an agent of chaos than a consensus-builder. Former Republican House Speaker John Boener went so far as to call him a “legislative terrorist.”
Jordan has garnered less support from his party, in fact, than McCarthy had to remain as speaker. Some members of Congress are proposing that the motion to vacate the speakership — used to dethrone McCarthy — be reformed, so a handful of House Republicans can never again force a speaker out without a majority to elect a replacement.
The conservative-leaning The Wall Street Journal criticized that attitude in an editorial that must have made the ears of Matt Gaetz, the congressman behind McCarthy’s ouster, ring: “What kind of an idiot mutineer takes over the man-of-war, tosses the captain overboard, and then spends two weeks pulling ropes at random, hoping like hell that the thing will somehow drift ashore before the supplies run out?”
The legislative gridlock caused by the speaker debacle is further complicated by the fact that the Senate has a Democratic majority of 51 to 49, while the House of Representatives, where there are two vacancies, is dominated by the Republicans (221 to 212). For the approval of any law, including budgetary ones, a majority is needed in both, which forces negotiations, cessions and compromises, just the opposite of Jim Jordan’s record, who prefers to fight, just as he did when he was a student.
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