Signaling more turmoil ahead, Republicans rejected Rep. Jim Jordan for House speaker on a first ballot Tuesday, as a surprising 20 holdouts denied the hard-charging ally of Donald Trump the GOP majority needed to seize the gavel.
Additional voting was postponed as the House hit a standstill, stuck while Jordan works to shore up support from Republican colleagues to replace the ousted Kevin McCarthy for the job. Reluctant Republicans are refusing to give Jordan their votes, viewing the Ohio congressman as too extreme for the powerful position of House speaker, second in line to the presidency. Next votes were expected Wednesday.
“We’re going to keep working,” Jordan said at the Capitol as evening fell.
It’s been two weeks of angry Republican infighting since McCarthy’s sudden removal by hard-liners, who are now within reach of a central seat of U.S. power. The vote for House speaker, once a formality in Congress, has devolved into another bitter showdown for the gavel.
Jordan said after the first vote that he was not surprised and expected to do better in the next round. But the afternoon dragged on with no further votes Tuesday. “We feel confident,” he said, ducking into a leadership office.
The tally, with 200 Republicans voting for Jordan and 212 for the Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, left no candidate with a clear majority, as 20 Republicans voted for someone else. With Republicans in majority control, Jordan must pick up most of his GOP foes to win.
The holdouts are a mix of pragmatists, ranging from seasoned legislators and committee chairs worried about governing, to newer lawmakers from districts where voters back home prefer President Joe Biden to Trump.
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 Republicans who have few options left, but it was not enough.
“Jim Jordan will be a great speaker,” the former president said outside a 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 at home if it fails to fund the government and fielding Biden’s requests for aid to help Ukraine and Israel in the wars abroad.
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 further absences.
Jeffries swiftly intervened, declaring was time for Republicans to partner with Democrats to reopen the House.
Bipartisan groups of lawmakers have been floating ways to operate the House by giving greater power to the interim speaker, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., or another temporary speaker.
“The Republicans are unable to function right now,” said Jeffries. He said talks “would accelerate” between Democrats and Republicans into the evening.
As the somber roll call was underway, each lawmaker announcing their choice, the holdouts quickly surfaced.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a leader of the centrists, voted for McCarthy, the ousted former speaker. Murmurs rippled through the chamber. Others voted for Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who was the party’s first nominee to replace McCarthy before he, too, was rejected by hardliners last week.
Making the official nominating speech was another top Trump ally, GOP conference chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who declared Jordan will be “we the people’s speaker.”
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 a “vocal election denier” would send “a terrible message” at home and abroad.
Aguilar recited all the times Jordan voted against various measures — abortion access, government aid and others. Democrats chanted, “He said no!”
Upset that a small band of hard-liners have upended the House by ousting McCarthy, Republicans have watched their majority control of the chamber descend into public infighting. All House business has ground to a halt.
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.
Immediately after the vote, Jordan conferred with McCarthy, who fared nearly as badly in January, having lost almost as many votes on the first of what would become a historic 15 ballots for the gavel.
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. Some Republicans said their first vote was merely a protest, and they would be with Jordan on future ballots.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who engineered McCarthy’s ouster by a handful of hard-liners, which did not include Jordan, publicly praised each lawmaker who has flipped to Jordan’s column — and berated those who have not.
Democrats have decried the far-right shift, calling Jordan the leader of the chaos wing of the GOP.
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.
Now the Republican Party’s front-runner to challenge Biden in the 2024 election, Trump backed Jordan to replace McCarthy early on and worked against the nomination of Scalise, who withdrew after colleagues rejected their own rules and failed to coalesce around him.
Tensions remained high among Republicans exhausted by the internal party infighting.
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. Others are simply upset at the way the whole process has dragged out.
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.