Mainstream House Republicans long frustrated with the antics of their combative anti-establishment colleagues are launching a revolution as a growing group of them lash out — at the expense of GOP Speaker nominee Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
The group of 22 Republicans who opposed Jordan on a second Speaker ballot Wednesday include those from swing districts and safe ones; new members and longtime House veterans.
And they do not look like they are moving.
Small groups of hard-line conservatives have used maximum leverage tactics to push and pull the rest of their GOP colleagues all year. It started with the 15-ballot saga to elect former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in January; continued through tanking procedural votes to block floor action over spending; and commenced with ousting McCarthy and blocking the first nominee selected to replace him, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.).
The slim four-seat GOP majority had always provided the opportunity for ideological moderates, or any group of five Republicans, to take a similar tactic. But they had not banded together to make an organized, public move to do so — until now, against the candidacy of the founding chairman of the confrontational House Freedom Caucus who rose to be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Some of those are vulnerable Republicans long seen as likely Jordan opponents, wary of being tied to his brand of combative politics. Others are appropriators with grudges over how Jordan’s hard-line conservative supporters have handled spending issues.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said that he is looking for a GOP Speaker that is “not just capable of moving the bills that we would prefer to move,” but will also “have the skill sets to work with the opposing party, particularly in the Senate.”
“Mr. Jordan, while perfectly suited for [the] Judiciary and Oversight positions that he’s held, does not possess the skill sets that are going to be needed to be an effective Speaker and to be able to deliver what we need to deliver,” Womack said.
Still others are lawmakers who long for the days when the GOP conference could hold a closed-door vote, elect a candidate for Speaker and then have that candidate win his colleagues’ backing on the floor.
They are outraged that Jordan allies who would not support Scalise after he narrowly won such a vote last week are now demanding that they support Jordan.
“Immediately, five people said, ‘We’ll never vote for Steve Scalise, only Jim Jordan.’ And you’re like, ‘OK, I guess our vote don’t count,’” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”
“You can’t be at a game or process where only one side’s playing by the rules,” Bacon said.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), another Jordan opponent, expressed similar frustration.
“This has to do with the integrity of that conference,” Kelly said. “They don’t need to lecture me on the way things work. I’m 75 years old. I’ve watched it my entire life, how things work. This is what tears teams apart.”
Some of those who resisted Scalise and insisted on Jordan, for their part, said an effort by Scalise allies to defeat a rule change that would have required near-unanimity support for a GOP Speaker nominee — aiming to keep GOP division out of public view — was “very swamp” and turned them off of his candidacy.
The number of holdouts on Jordan remains small compared to the rest of the House GOP. And Jordan has argued he has broad support from all types of members.
“We’ve got people who are defense hawks who are for us, appropriators who are for us, Main Street Group who are for us, conservative members who are for us,” Jordan said Wednesday. “We’ve got a complete cross section of the conference.”
But for the Jordan holdouts, it is also the pressure campaign tactics, coming mostly from outside commentators and activists, that are further inflaming them and hardening their opposition to the Ohio Republican. Multiple members who voted against Jordan have gotten swarms of phone calls to their offices after their numbers have been plastered online, coming mostly from those not in their districts.
“Early on, there was a chance that some of them might be able to come around. And then we got into the attack dog tactics that were employed against the people that voted against him the first time,” Womack said.
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) said Wednesday that she received “credible death threats” after defecting from Jordan.
Jordan quickly condemned the threats.
“We condemn all threats against our colleagues and it is imperative that we come together. Stop. It’s abhorrent,” Jordan wrote on X.
The holdouts against Jordan have increased chatter about some Republicans working with Democrats to empower Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) as the conference fails to coalesce around a Speaker. But it is unclear whether those voting against Jordan would go that far.
And those supporting Jordan charge that the objections to him are mostly emotional.
“I’d be curious to see what my colleagues’ objectives are now besides just literally saying no,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a Freedom Caucus member who had resisted McCarthy in January and Scalise last week.
“We went down to the floor, we did nomination speeches, and we got behind people and explained what we wanted. We offered proposals, we offered thoughts. We put out a list of things that we thought ought to change in the institution,” Roy said of the holdouts against McCarthy in January. “What are they doing besides sitting around whining?”
Womack agreed about the general dynamics of the two parallel Speaker holdouts — but saw it as more of a warning for Jordan.
“The January 20 [against McCarthy] were all trying to extract something. it was transactional,” Womack said. “The October 20 — I’ve talked to these people. There’s not an ask. There is nothing that the candidate can offer that can move these members from their positions.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.