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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Who is Jim Jordan? The hard-right House speaker contender dogged by scandal

Jim Jordan at the Capitol on Wednesday. Jordan has confirmed a run for House speaker.
Jim Jordan at the Capitol on Wednesday. Jordan has confirmed a run for House speaker. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman who is seeking to become House speaker, is a prominent celebrity on the far right of US politics – and a magnet for controversy who a former speaker from his own party once called a “political terrorist”.

Jordan, 59, was elected to Congress in 2006 from a conservative, rural district of Ohio. A high school and college wrestling champion, he made his mark on the House as a founder of the hard-right Freedom caucus, helping oust former speaker John Boehner, who was not deemed sufficiently extreme.

But Jordan has not been free of controversy himself. He has long been dogged by questions about a sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State University, where he was a wrestling coach before he entered politics, while the full extent of his involvement in Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, leading up to the deadly attack on Congress, remains unknown.

In the last Congress, when Democrats held the gavel, Jordan refused to cooperate with the House January 6 committee, despite being served with a subpoena.

But his involvement in Trump’s machinations has been widely reported. He is known, for instance, to have spoken with the then president on the morning of the riot.

In their book I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, the Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig reported a startling conversation from the day after the riot, 7 January 2021.

According to Rucker and Leonnig, Liz Cheney, then a Wyoming Republican congresswoman, and future vice-chair of the January 6 committee, spoke to Gen Mark Milley, then chair of the joint chiefs of staff.

“That fucking guy Jim Jordan,” Cheney said. “That son of a bitch. While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’

“I smacked his hand away and told him: ‘Get away from me. You fucking did this.’”

Jordan was a prominent supporter of Trump’s lie about electoral fraud. Efforts on Trump’s behalf included speaking at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Pennsylvania two days after election day; attending White House meetings at which strategy was discussed; appearing on Fox News to promote such efforts; and, on the morning of January 6 itself, speaking in the House, to object to results from Arizona.

Five days after the Capitol attack, Trump gave Jordan the presidential medal of freedom.

Jordan has said he uses his background in wrestling in his approach to politics, particularly as an aggressive questioner in committee hearings.

“I look at it like a wrestling match,” Jordan told the New York Times in April. “I’m going to try to get as ready as I can. You can’t just wing it.”

But the Ohio State sexual abuse scandal also rumbles on.

From 1987 to 1995, Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at OSU. Former athletes have said he turned a blind eye to abuse perpetrated by Richard Strauss, a doctor, which according to an official report was widely seen as an “open secret”.

Jordan denies a cover-up. He also refused to cooperate with the official investigation.

One ex-OSU wrestler, Dunyasha Yetts, has said: “If Jordan says he didn’t know about it, then he’s lying.”

Another, Mike Schyck, recently told NBC News: “Do you really want a guy in that job who chose not to stand up for his guys? Is that the kind of character trait you want for a House speaker?”

For Jordan, becoming speaker might also invite uncomfortable mentions of Dennis Hastert, from Illinois and the longest-serving Republican speaker, filling the role from 1999 to 2007.

After leaving politics, Hastert became embroiled in scandal, eventually admitting to sexually abusing teenage boys while a wrestling coach himself, then paying his accusers to stay quiet. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Despite it all, for Jordan, seizing the speaker’s gavel and thereby becoming second-in-line to the presidency would cap a congressional career that began in 2006 and has included leading the powerful judiciary committee and being the first chair of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

It was Boehner, a former speaker also from Ohio, who famously referred to Jordan as a “political terrorist”, only interested in destructive action rather than legislative achievement.

In 2021, Boehner told CBS: “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart – never building anything, never putting anything together.”

This month, as Jordan homed in on becoming speaker himself, Cheney said his success would damage the party severely.

“If the Republicans decide that Jim Jordan should be the speaker of the House,” she said, “there would no longer be any possible way to argue that a group of elected Republicans could be counted on to defend the constitution.”

• This article was amended on 17 October 2023. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Paul Ryan was ousted from House speakership. Ryan stepped down in 2018.

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