WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans chose firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan as their new nominee for House speaker during internal voting Friday, putting the gavel within reach of the staunch ally of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
Electing Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, to the powerful position second in line to the presidency would move the GOP’s far right into a central seat of U.S. power. A groundswell of high-profile backers including Fox News’ Sean Hannity publicly pressured lawmakers to vote Jordan into the speaker’s office after the stunning ouster of Kevin McCarthy.
Jordan, of Ohio, will now try to unite colleagues from the deeply divided House GOP majority ahead of a public vote on the floor, possibly next week. Republicans split 124-81 in Friday’s private vote, though a second secret ballot nudged his tally higher.
“I think Jordan would do a great job,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said ahead of the vote. “We got to get this back on track.”
Frustrated House Republicans have been fighting bitterly over whom they should elect to replace McCarthy to lead their party after his unprecedented ouster by a handful of hardliners. The stalemate between the factions, now in its second week, has thrown the House into chaos, grinding all other business to a halt. Lawmakers left for the weekend, and are due back Monday.
Attention swiftly turned to Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chairman and founder of the far-right Freedom Caucus, after Majority Leader Steve Scalise abruptly ended his bid when it became clear holdouts would refuse to back his nomination.
But not all Republicans want to see Jordan as speaker.
Jordan is known for his close alliance with Trump, particularly when the then-president was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
His rise would all but complete the far-rightward shift of the party, and boost its defense of Trump in four separate legal cases, including over 2020 election fraud. During Trump’s impeachment proceedings over the Jan. 6 attack, Jordan was his chief defender in Congress. Trump awarded him the Medal of Freedom days later.
The work of Congress, including next month’s Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government or risk a federal shutdown, would be almost certain to become anything but routine. Jordan’s wing of the party has already demanded severe budget cuts that he has promised to deliver, and aid to Ukraine would be seriously in doubt. Investigations into Biden and his family would push to the forefront.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries immediately gathered his party on the Capitol steps to urge Republicans against giving the gavel to Jordan — an “extremist extraordinaire” — and encourage GOP lawmakers to partner with them to reopen the House.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, anxious GOP lawmakers worry their House majority is being frittered away to countless rounds of infighting and some don’t want to reward the speaker’s gavel to Jordan’s wing, which sparked the turmoil.
“If we’re going to be the majority party, we have to act like the majority party,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., a former president of the “tea party” freshmen class of 2011 who posed a last-ditch challenge to Jordan.
Jordan’s tally Friday was not much better than the 113-99 vote he lost to Scalise at the start of the week, showing the long road ahead, though Friday’s second-round ballot pushed his tally to 152-55.
“He’s got some work to do,” said veteran Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
While Jordan has a long list of detractors, his supporters said voting against the Trump ally during a public vote on the House floor would be tougher since he is so popular and well known among more conservative GOP voters. Challenger Scott threw his support to Jordan.
Heading into a morning meeting, Jordan said, “I feel real good.”
The House, without a speaker, is essentially unable to function during a time of turmoil in the U.S. and wars overseas. The political pressure is increasingly on Republicans to reverse course, reassert majority control and govern in Congress.
With the House narrowly split 221-212, with two vacancies, any nominee can lose just a few Republicans before failing to reach the 217 majority needed in the face of opposition from Democrats, who will most certainly back their own leader, Jeffries. Absences could lower the majority threshold.
“As emotion begins to leave some members, I think it’s going to be easier for some of them to get to yes,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.
Other potential speaker choices were also being floated. Some Republicans proposed simply giving Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who was appointed interim speaker pro tempore, greater authority to lead the House for some time.
On Friday, California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, introduced a motion to reinstate McCarthy during the morning meeting, but it was shelved.
In announcing his decision to withdraw from the nomination, Scalise declined to throw his support behind Jordan as the bitter rivalry deepened. “It’s got to be people that aren’t doing it for themselves,” he said late Thursday.
But Jordan’s allies swung into high gear at a chance for the hard-right leader to seize the gavel.
Jordan also received an important nod Friday from the Republican Party’s campaign chairman, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who made an attempt to unify the fighting factions.
“Removing Speaker Kevin McCarthy was a mistake,” Hudson wrote on social media, saying the party was at a crossroads. “We must unite around one leader.”
Just as handfuls of Republicans announced they wouldn’t go for Scalise, the situation flipped Friday and holdouts were sticking with Scalise, McCarthy or someone other than Jordan.
Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, had announced his preference early for Jordan, and he and allies repeatedly discussed Scalise’s battle against cancer.
Scalise has been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer and is being treated, but he has also said he was definitely up for the speaker’s job.
Jordan himself faces questions about his past. Some years ago, Jordan and his office 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 and his office have said he was never aware of any abuse.
The situation is not fully different from the start of the year, when McCarthy faced a similar backlash from a different group of far-right holdouts who ultimately gave their votes to elect him speaker, then engineered his historic downfall.
Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.