WASHINGTON - Refusing to drop out, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan told GOP colleagues Thursday he was still running to be House speaker but would back a longshot plan to give someone else the gavel for the next several months as he works to shore up support to win the post himself.
Jordan delivered the message at a fiery closed-door meeting at the Capitol as the Republican majority considered an extraordinary plan to give the interim Speaker Pro-tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry more powers until January to reopen the House and conduct crucial business, according to Republicans familiar with the private meeting who insisted on anonymity to discuss it.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol October 19, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
But neither option — choose Jordan or a temporary stand-in — seems immediately viable. And the House is now weeks into an unprecedented stalemate after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, grinding business to a halt and threatening economic and other damage.
"I’m still running for speaker and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race," said Jordan, the combative Judiciary Committee chairman and a chief ally of Donald Trump.
But when? Jordan told the room he would confer with his wife, speak to the more than 20 holdouts who have refused to give him the gavel and ask McCarthy to give a nominating speech. Then he would decide what and when his next move would be.
Thursday's meeting grew heated at times with Republican factions blaming one another for sending their majority into chaos, lawmakers said.
When Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a chief architect of the ouster of the speaker two weeks ago, rose to speak, McCarthy told him it was not his turn.
"It's like a Thanksgiving dinner," Gaetz said afterward.
With Jordan refusing to concede and his hard-right detractors rejecting the longshot idea of installing McHenry as a temporary speaker, there are few options left to put the shattered House back to normal.
The House convened briefly at midday Thursday, but no action was taken, the schedule ahead uncertain.
There is a sinking realization that the House could remain endlessly stuck, out of service and without a leader for the foreseeable future as the Republican majority spirals deeper into dysfunction.
"We’re trying to figure out if there’s a way we can get back with a Republican-only solution," said veteran legislator Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
"That’s what normal majorities do. What this majority has done is prove it’s not a normal majority."
Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) speaks with Rep. Jim Jordan ahead as House members gather to vote for the next speaker at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) failed to reac
Elevating McHenry to an expanded speaker's role would not be as politically simple as it might seem. The hard-right Republican lawmakers including some who ousted McCarthy, don’t like the idea.
"Asinine," said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a leader of far-right House Freedom Caucus.
While Democrats have suggested the arrangement, Republicans are loathe to partner with the Democrats in a bipartisan way. And it's highly unlikely Republicans could vote to give McHenry more powers on their own, even though they have majority control of the House.
"It’s a bad precedent and I don’t support it," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the Freedom Caucus chairman.
McHenry himself has brushed off attempts to take the job more permanently after he was appointed to the role after the unprecedented ouster of Kevin McCarthy more than two weeks ago.
"I did not ask for additional powers," said McHenry of North Carolina, a Republican who is well-liked by his colleagues and viewed as a highly competent legislator. "My duty is to get the next speaker elected. That’s my focus."
A McCarthy ally Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said there was a show of hands at the private meeting asking members whether they would support the pro-tempore effort but it was just "a small number that raised their hands."
"I just don’t know if the numbers are there," he said.
Next steps were highly uncertain as angry, frustrated Republicans looked at other options. Some predict the House could stay essentially shuttered, as it has been almost all month, until the mid-November deadline for Congress to approve funding or risk a federal government shutdown.
"I think clearly Nov. 17 is a real date," said Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., who leads a large conservative caucus, referring to the next deadline
What was clear was that Jordan's path to become House speaker was almost certainly lost.
On Wednesday, Jordan, a founding member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus failed in a crucial second ballot, opposed by 22 Republicans, two more than he lost in first-round voting the day before.
Many view the Ohio congressman as too extreme for a central seat of U.S. power and resented the harassing hardball tactics from Jordan's allies for their votes. Several lawmakers said they had received death threats.
Republicans applaud as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is introduced as the House of Representatives holds its second round of voting for a new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Ima
"One thing I cannot stomach or support is a bully," said a statement from Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, who voted against Jordan on the second ballot and said she received "credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls."
Wednesday's new holdouts added to a surprisingly large and politically diverse group of 20 Republicans who had rejected Jordan’s nomination on Tuesday.
To win over his GOP colleagues, Jordan had relied on backing from Trump, the party’s front-runner in the 2024 election to challenge President Joe Biden, and groups pressuring rank-and-file lawmakers for the vote. But they were not enough and in fact backfired on some.
Flexing their independence, the holdouts are a mix of pragmatists — ranging from seasoned legislators and committee chairs worried about governing, to newer lawmakers from districts where voters prefer Biden to Trump. Jordan’s refusal to concede only further embittered some of the Republicans.
"The way out is that Jim Jordan has got to pull his name," said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who voted twice against him. "He’s going to have to call it quits."
With Republicans in majority control of the House, 221-212, Jordan must pick up most of his GOP foes to win. Wednesday's tally, with 199 Republicans voting for Jordan and 212 for Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, left no candidate with a clear majority.
The novel concept of boosting the interim speaker's role was gaining favor with a pair of high-profile Republicans: former GOP speakers Newt Gingrich and John Boehner.
But it seemed to be slipping away as Republicans could not put it in place on their own, and refused to reach across the aisle to Democrats who have expressed a willingness to consider the option.
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.
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 State doctor. Jordan has said he was never aware of any abuse.