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‘Oh, come on!’ Groans, eye rolls and gritted teeth as Jordan loses first speaker round

This was, and wasn’t, planned, observers say

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Republican nominee for speaker of the House, is seen on the House floor after he did not receive enough votes to become speaker in Tuesday's first round of voting.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Republican nominee for speaker of the House, is seen on the House floor after he did not receive enough votes to become speaker in Tuesday's first round of voting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“No person having received a majority of the whole number of votes cast by surname, a speaker has not been elected,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., making official what everyone in the chamber Tuesday already knew: The Republican Party remains headless in the House.

McHenry, the speaker pro tempore, gaveled the attempt to a close less than two hours after it began, as the latest GOP heir apparent, Jim Jordan, fell well short of the 217 votes he needed to claim the speakership. In the bruising first round, Jordan received 200 votes from his fellow Republicans, while another 20 voted for various alternatives and all 212 Democrats voted for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

The vote brought visitors to the Capitol intent on witnessing history — or at least a political soap opera. The galleries overlooking the floor filled before noon, with many watchers sporting the red visitor badge of a representative’s guest.

But other visitors were just lucky. A stream of excited third graders from Dorothy I. Height Elementary School in Northwest D.C. filed into the chamber, taking gallery seats behind reporters as part of a fortuitously timed field trip.

“This was always planned,” their teacher said, gesturing to the students taking their seats. She then pointed at the floor and laughed. “THIS wasn’t.”

They weren’t the youngest onlookers on Tuesday, though. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., brought her newborn baby. 

Listening to Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California nominate Jeffries to Democratic applause on the floor, the school kids joined in, clapping and cheering as their teachers tried in vain to shush them.

During his speech, Aguilar led his colleagues in a bit of call-and-response. “When New Yorkers recovering from Hurricane Sandy needed Congress to act —” he said, setting up his caucus to play a Greek chorus on C-SPAN: “He said no.”

Aguilar repeated that four more times, ending with Jordan’s recent vote against additional aid to Ukraine. By the last few, the elementary students were joining in.

The teachers shuffled their students out to continue their tour as the House clerk began to call out the roll in alphabetical order. They were gone by the time Don Bacon became the first Republican to vote for someone other than Jordan, eliciting murmurs across the chamber.

The Jordan holdouts represent a wide range of Republicans opposed to elevating the co-founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus to second in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president. 

A moderate trio of New Yorkers from Long Island — Andrew Garbarino, Nick LaLota and Anthony D’Esposito — voted for one of their own, former Rep. Lee Zeldin, who made a surprisingly strong run for governor of the Empire State last year. A few Republicans who represent districts Biden carried, like Bacon of Nebraska and Jen Kiggans of Virginia, voted again for Kevin McCarthy, the former speaker whose dismissal two weeks ago at the hands of eight Republicans and a united Democratic front set Tuesday’s futility performance in motion.

Institutionalists like Appropriations Chair Kay Granger and Florida’s Mario Diaz-Balart voted for Steve Scalise of Louisiana instead. Scalise was the GOP conference’s first pick to replace McCarthy, but when he failed to consolidate support after a narrow 113-99 caucus vote against Jordan last week, Scalise dropped out. That paved the way for Jordan to try again, and after he defeated Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia on a 124-81 intraparty vote on Friday, Republicans decided to try for unity on the floor Tuesday. 

Titters and whispers filled the chamber throughout the attempt, as they have in every speaker’s vote this year. The 118th Congress began in January with 15 roll call votes before McCarthy managed to secure a majority.

Almost any time a member on any side used their vote as an opening to give a little speech Tuesday, it led to groans from the other side. When Maxine Waters of California said, “Mr. Speaker, I vote for Hakeem Jeffries versus an insurrectionist,” someone on the GOP side responded loudly with, “Oh, come on!”

But the partisan excitement flagged as it became apparent that the House’s leadership crisis would continue without an immediate end in sight. By the time Pennsylvania Democrat Susan Wild, the ninth from last member, prefaced her vote for Jeffries with “to save our democracy,” barely anyone responded. 

Amid an otherwise polarizing afternoon, there was a lone moment where members appeared to put politics aside, if only for a few seconds. When Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska voted for Jeffries, the entire chamber, Democrats and Republicans alike, rose and applauded. It was Peltola’s first vote since returning to Washington after her husband’s death in a plane crash.

Democrats eager to attack

When Jordan emerged as a dark horse speaker candidate this month, Democrats began to remind voters of his long record as one of the House’s most outspoken and conservative members. “With their nomination of Jim Jordan, they are choosing chaos,” Democratic Whip Katherine M. Clark said at a press conference Friday. He has voted to ban abortion nationwide with no exceptions for rape or incest. He has voted to shut down the government and force our troops to work without pay. He has voted to gut Social Security and Medicare. He was directly involved in the right-wing coup that sought to overturn the 2020 election.”

After a deadly mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Jordan was one of 147 Republicans to vote against certifying Joe Biden’s election, but he was hardly just another one of them. Some Republicans said in private they went along with voting against certification only because they faced death threats and knew the vote would fail anyway. Jordan helped lead the effort, spreading lies about a Democratic conspiracy to rig the election ahead of the vote and speaking at a “Stop the Steal” rally afterward. Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Jan. 11 of that year. And this month, after briefly flirting with the idea of running himself, the former president endorsed Jordan’s speakership bid.

At a conference meeting Monday, Rep. French Hill of Arkansas asked Jordan point-blank if Trump won in 2020. Jordan refused to answer, said Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, an idiosyncratic member of the House Freedom Caucus who has consistently excoriated election deniers. On Tuesday, Buck voted for Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota.

On the DW-NOMINATE scale, which approximates a member’s political ideology by looking at their votes in Congress, Jordan is more conservative than 91 percent of the House GOP. McCarthy is slightly more liberal than the average House Republican but still close to the party’s center — and far to the right of any Democrat.

Since arriving on the Hill in 2007, Jordan has managed to pass just a few pieces of legislation he introduced. One resolution created the House Judiciary’s Weaponization of the Federal Government select subcommittee, another in 2014 called on then-Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to look into allegations that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofits, and the third, a 2007 measure, expressed sympathy for victims of a recent flood.

Some of Jordan’s GOP colleagues have said he makes it harder to govern. Former Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, called him “a legislative terrorist,” in a 2021 CBS interview. “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart — never building anything, never putting anything together.”

In 2018, Jordan led a push to force a 35-day government shutdown, claiming it would lead to more money for a border wall. It didn’t.

Instead of legislation, Jordan has focused his attention on getting attention. He’s appeared more times on Fox News in recent years than his peers, per the liberal watchdog group Media Matters.

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