Politics

Will Jim Jordan bully his way to the speakership?

Back in September 2016, Rep. Jim Jordan was on a crusade: He wanted the House to launch impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over allegations that the agency had targeted conservatives.

But Jordan (R-Ohio) had a problem: GOP party leaders saw impeachment as a political loser and refused to even haul Koskinen in for questioning.

Jordan wasn’t about to back down, however. He cornered then-House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on the House floor and presented him with a choice: Either you summon Koskinen to the Hill or the Freedom Caucus forces a vote on his impeachment a few weeks before Election Day.

Jordan got his hearing.

That is one of many instances where the Ohio Republican used hardline tactics — or what some of his colleagues would call bullying — to get his way. He was so good at it, in fact, that POLITICO dubbed him the “other speaker of the House” at the time.

Jordan once again wants something that a whole lot of his colleagues don’t want to give him. As he makes a final push for the speakership, he faces his own choice: Does he stick with his recent transformation into a team player? Or does he revert back to the tough tactics he built his reputation on?

One thing is clear: He has work to do. While Jordan won the GOP nomination for speaker yesterday, the vote was far from the display of unity that he and his allies had predicted. An eye-popping 81 Republicans rejected Jordan in favor of a low-key backbencher, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), who decided to run just hours before the vote.

“We were shocked at the number of people who did not vote for him,” Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) told Bloomberg. “There was nowhere else to go, and they still didn’t want to go there.”

The challenge Jordan is facing boils down to this: Despite becoming more aligned with leadership over the past three years, many of his colleagues still don’t trust him.

Lots of them worry he’ll embrace fiscal brinkmanship and steer the government into shutdowns. An even larger group is furious with how he treated Steve Scalise after the House majority leader won the nomination Wednesday, and they aren’t keen on seeing the second-place finisher end up with the gavel.

It should come as no surprise, though, that Jordan and his allies are ready to fight in a way that Scalise wasn’t. Their strategy is simple: Smoke out the holdouts in a public floor vote and put them in a political pressure cooker.

“What is going to happen is, they are going to vote on the floor, and then they hear from the grassroots,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told POLITICO Friday, echoing the belief in Jordan world that his opponents will cave under pressure from the GOP base.

The theory certainly has merit: On a secret-ballot revote where members were asked if they’d support Jordan on the floor, opposition dropped from 81 to 55. And of those 55, only a handful have made their opposition public — suggesting there is indeed a fear of openly breaking with Jordan.

But getting to 217 will require a scorched-earth whipping effort that goes against the entire pitch Jordan made to his colleagues in recent days — that he’s a changed man who will represent all Republicans, not just base-pleasing conservatives.

And should he move to bulldoze his opposition on the floor, that would repudiate his position earlier this week — that the nominee needed to garner 217 votes inside the conference before waging a floor fight.

(Note that Jordan isn’t alone in that particular flip-flop: Earlier this week, when Scalise was surging, ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy backed the get-217-first rule. After Jordan’s nomination yesterday, he and acting Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry told Republicans to fall in line, according to a person in the room: Jordan will be speaker. That’s a message neither man sent after Scalise was nominated.)

Despite the pressure, a group of Republicans are already privately coordinating an effort to hold firm against him. They include appropriators who don’t trust his judgment on government funding and defense hawks who don’t like that he has wavered on Pentagon budget increases.

They’re not, however, a group with a strong track record of defying their colleagues, to put it mildly. Jordan has other advantages, too: Unlike Scalise, who faced pressure to drop out after one day, he has more than three days to woo his opponents before Tuesday’s expected vote. And, frankly, many members are sick and tired of the drama, eager to pick a leader and move on.

A person familiar with Jordan’s whip effort rejected the notion that Jordan is trying to bully his way to the gavel. After securing the nomination yesterday, Jordan encouraged skeptical members to call him with their concerns, the person said, and not a single lawmaker has since told him that he won’t vote for him on the floor.

“Chairman Jordan has made it clear that he wants to unite the conference in order to pass the bills that the American people expect by giving Israel the resources they need to destroy Hamas, securing the border, and reforming FISA,” spokesperson Russell Dye said. “He is looking forward to working with the entire conference to do so when he’s speaker.”

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To win the speaker’s gavel, the Ohio Republican might have to embrace the tough tactics he built his reputation on.  

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