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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Joan E Greve, Martin Pengelly and David Smith in Washington

Jim Jordan emerges as House speaker nominee but doesn’t have votes to win

Jim Jordan speaks to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington DC on Thursday.
Jim Jordan speaks to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington DC on Thursday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans in the US House of Representatives scrambled to find a new speaker on Friday as Congressman Jim Jordan won an internal vote but with a margin that suggests the disarray is far from over.

Jordan, endorsed by former president Donald Trump and ex-speaker Kevin McCarthy, defeated a surprise candidate, Austin Scott of Georgia, who had barely campaigned.

According to media reports, Jordan’s won by 124 votes to 81, meaning that he gained only 25 votes since his defeat by Steve Scalise in a previous contest. Scalise subsequently abandoned his bid after failing to secure enough support for a floor vote. It remains far from certain whether Jordan can avoid a similar fate.

Jordan did not pick up much more support in a second round of voting, which he won 152-55, indicating that about a quarter of the conference would oppose him in a floor vote expected on Tuesday at the earliest.

Jordan cannot expect help from Democrats who condemned him as an “extremist extraordinaire” and warned that his nomination would solve nothing. Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader, said: “The House Republican civil war continues to rage on, miring the Congress in chaos, dysfunction and extremism. House Republicans have chosen to triple down on the chaos, triple down on the dysfunction and triple down on the extremism.

“House Republicans have selected as their nominee to be the speaker of the people’s house the chairman of the ‘chaos caucus’, a defender in a dangerous way of dysfunction and an extremist extraordinaire.”

Without a speaker, the House has been paralyzed for 10 days, unable to take up legislation including approving aid for Israel following the attacks by Hamas, a priority for many Republicans.

Scalise, from Louisiana, announced his decision to drop out on Thursday, following a meeting in which it became clear he had no path to securing the 217 votes any winner would need.

“There are still some people that have their own agendas,” Scalise said. “And I was very clear: we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs. This country is counting on us to come back together. This House of Representatives needs a speaker, and we need to open up the House again.”

The conference met again on Friday morning, seeking to determine whether Ohio congressman Jordan, 59, the judiciary committee chair, a hard-right bomb-thrower and a leading supporter of Trump, the presidential frontrunner, could cobble together enough votes to become speaker.

He prevailed but must now seek the votes of 217 members of the full House, including Democrats, in a vote on the floor. Among those he will have to win over is Scalise ally Ann Wagner of Missouri, who told CNN on Thursday she was a “non-starter” on Jordan.

Jordan is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. He was a key Trump ally before and after the January 6 insurrection who refused to cooperate with the House panel that investigated the attack. Liz Cheney, a former Wyoming congresswoman from an influential Republican family, had suggested the conference would make a dangerous mistake if it elected Jordan.

“Jim Jordan was involved in Trump’s conspiracy to steal the election and seize power; he urged that [then vice-president Mike] Pence refuse to count lawful electoral votes,” Cheney, who was vice-chair of the January 6 committee, said on social media. “If [Republicans] nominate Jordan to be speaker, they will be abandoning the constitution. They’ll lose the House majority and they’ll deserve to.”

Scott, 53 and the longest-serving House Republican from Georgia, if with a strikingly low profile in Washington, offered himself as a relatively moderate alternative to Jordan. “We are in Washington to legislate, and I want to lead a House that functions in the best interest of the American people,” he wrote on social media.

In January 2021, in the aftermath of the deadly attack on Congress by Trump supporters, Scott was not among the 139 House Republicans (and eight senators) who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.

He also rejected the move to eject Kevin McCarthy last week, dismissing the eight Republicans who made their own speaker the first ever removed from the role by his own party as “grifters” working “in the name of their own glory and fundraising”.

Elsewhere on Friday, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, widely thought a possible candidate, ruled himself out of the running – “after much prayer and deliberation”. According to CNN another name widely touted in the corridors of Capitol Hill, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, was planning to stay as majority whip but could mount a challenge if Jordan could not muster the votes.

As Republicans hold the House by a razor-thin majority, any candidate for speaker can only afford four defections if they are to win the gavel.

Brian Mast, from Florida, acknowledged that Scalise’s downfall so soon after that of McCarthy had created bad blood in the party.

“One of the obstacles is simply the fact that Kevin got thrown out [and] Steve wasn’t able to come to the floor,” Mast said. “Just that being the case, there’s going to be people that are upset and … possibly want to take it out on Jim just because that happened.”

Patrick McHenry of North Carolina continues to serve as temporary speaker but his limited powers have left the chamber unable to work. Michael McCaul of Texas, the chair of the foreign relations committee, warned that the standoff was sending the wrong message to foreign powers such as Russia and China.

“It’s a dangerous game that we’re playing,” McCaul said. “It just proves our adversaries right that democracy doesn’t work. Our adversaries are watching us.”

Jeffries, of New York, continued to call on moderate Republicans to “break with the extremists” and form a bipartisan coalition.

“We are ready, willing and able to do so,” Jeffries told PBS. “I know there are traditional Republicans who are good women and men who want to see government function but they are unable to do it within the ranks of their own conference, which is dominated by the extremist wing, and that’s why we continue to extend the hand of bipartisanship to them.”

Republicans have shown no sign of entertaining that idea. Despite the chaos, though, some chose to laugh at their own mismanagement.

Mike Collins, of Georgia, said: “The good thing is, at the rate we’re going, I should have my turn [to try to get] 217 [votes] by Halloween. Plenty of time to get my flyers ready.”

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