The effort to elect a Republican House speaker who has often espoused conspiracy theories and was once labeled a “political terrorist” by his would-be predecessor was always bound to be a bit untidy. And as a faction of the Republican Party has dug in against Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) bid, it has gotten ugly.
Republicans who are resisting Jordan’s speakership were greeted to a number of hardball tactics this weekend. Their effectiveness is to be determined. But there’s no question that the tactics — and the strained arguments Jordan’s backers are employing — betray both the hurdles Jordan faces and how combative his speakership could become.
While Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) got the speakership by compromising with the hard-right faction of the party, Jordan and his allies appear content to instead apply pressure in hopes of wearing down the opposition.
And there is some early evidence it could be having some impact.
A chief argument is that Republicans who resist installing Jordan are preventing the House from carrying out its duties, and that it’s time to just relent in the name of moving forward. The House needs to pass a budget and could soon be confronted with doing something about the burgeoning war in Israel, the argument goes. Those who vote against Jordan would be standing in the way.
“With the world in flames, Republicans in the House need to elect a Speaker ASAP,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, while endorsing Jordan.
“We need to unify behind our candidate and get back in the game,” Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) said. “The world is burning, and so is our republic.”
But it’s curious that many of the people making this argument didn’t really employ it when the speaker candidate last week was House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) — a candidate thwarted mostly by the hard right — even after the situation in Israel touched off. It would also seem to be an argument for moving forward with more of a consensus candidate rather than one who has been aligned with that hard right. If the name of the game is really about resolving this quickly, that would seem an argument for going with a Patrick McHenry type rather than a divisive figure.
Perhaps the most striking implementation of this strategy involves Fox News host Sean Hannity, who appears to be effectively whipping votes for Jordan.
Axios’s Juliegrace Brufke reported Sunday on an email from a Hannity producer seemingly applying pressure on the Jordan holdouts by using these talking points. The email cites the budget, Ukraine and Israel and asked, “Please let us know when Rep [blank] plans on opening The People’s House so work can be done.”
The Washington Post’s Leigh Ann Caldwell is also reporting that Hannity personally contacted at least one member directly to urge them to vote for Jordan.
This is not normal for a journalist, even an opinion host. It’s one thing to apply pressure on behalf of your preferred candidates on air, but employing the Jordan side’s talking points and doing personal, private outreach is something else entirely.
We’ve also seen a growing pressure campaign against those who have floated a potential bipartisan solution if Republicans can’t settle on a speaker candidate. This is often pitched as those members being apostates by effectively working to elect a Democrat to the job.
“Unbelievable that a handful of members would prefer a Democrat[ic] speaker over a conservative one,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Friday.
Unbelievable that a handful of members would prefer a Democrat speaker over a conservative one. Jim Jordan has the experience, principles, and heart for the top job. Let’s get this done and get to work. https://t.co/IJExpXFUiM
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 14, 2023
Numerous right-wing influencers have gestured toward that boogeyman. A prominent one on Sunday even suggested Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), who had floated a bipartisan deal, wanted to put former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back in power.
This is nonsensical. The odds of a bipartisan deal still appear long, but it’s extremely difficult to see how the speaker would ever be a Democrat, much less one so reviled on the right. Much more likely is that it would result in an agreeable Republican speaker. That’s almost always how these things work at the state level, with the coalition-elected speaker still hailing from the majority party.
Some are bristling at the tactics. Brufke reported that moderates are alienated by the involvement of Hannity, and moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) decried the strategy put forward by Lee, et. al., that accuses Bacon and others of promoting a Democratic speaker.
“By the way, this is just stupid and a 100% falsehood,” Bacon (R-Neb.) said on X on Monday morning, in response to a post singling out him, Rogers and four others who have floated a bipartisan deal. “Not a SINGLE (not ONE) Republican in the House will be voting for Mr Jeffries.’
Bacon added: “Don’t fall for social media spin and pressure campaign to elect a certain Republican.”
But much of the pushback on these tactics from Jordan holdouts continues to be anonymous. That could certainly be read as these members being fearful of that kind of singling-out by a hard right that has proved adept at applying this kind of pressure in the Trump era.
One member who spoke with The Washington Post complained of Jordan trying to “beat folks into submission,” but they added that “I don’t want to be a punching bag for the next three days.”
And at least in one case, the pressure appears to have worked.
Rogers, the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was the subject of plenty of pushback this weekend. Social media users posted his office’s number and promoted a potential primary challenge. Posts attacking him were promoted thousands of times.
On Friday, he had reportedly said Jordan could do nothing to win his support. But on Monday morning, Rogers said he would back Jordan.
As a result, I have decided to support Jim Jordan for Speaker of the House on the floor. (2/3)
— Mike Rogers (@RepMikeRogersAL) October 16, 2023
We shall see if others join Rogers in a change of heart.