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Jim Jordan sat stone-faced as he lost another speaker vote. But John Boehner got a laugh

It was a big day for former members of Congress

Rep. Jim Jordan is seen on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Jim Jordan is seen on the House floor Wednesday afternoon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Like they did just 23 hours prior, fractious House Republicans tried to pick a speaker Wednesday. And just like 23 hours prior, they failed.

The vote count this time was 199 Republicans for Jim Jordan against 212 Democratic votes for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, with 22 Republicans voting for others — including a familiar name from the past.

The chamber broke out in laughter when Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania called out the name of John Boehner, who once dubbed Jordan a “legislative terrorist.”

During his own days as speaker, Boehner saw Jordan and the Freedom Caucus he helped to found as a painful thorn in his side. In the face of a threatened revolt in 2015, Boehner gave up the gavel and resigned from Congress, with no love lost.

It was the 17th time the House voted for a speaker this year, after Kevin McCarthy took 15 ballots to secure the gavel in January. Since his defenestration earlier this month, Republicans have struggled to replace him. 

As the House clerk again went through the long process of calling each member in alphabetical order to vote one-by-one, Jordan sat stone-faced, alternately watching as members stood to announce their preference for speaker and whispering with one of his top allies beside him, Warren Davidson, another Ohioan and Freedom Caucus member who occupies the seat in Congress that Boehner once held.

His efforts to sway holdouts were mostly unsuccessful. Jordan spent some of the lengthy quorum call before the vote in intense conversation with Rep. Andrew Garbarino of New York, who had backed former Rep. Lee Zeldin on Tuesday. Jordan stood arms crossed, gesticulating with his right hand as Garbarino listened, staring off in the distance. The conversation ended without a handshake, and Garbarino went off to talk to Jason Smith, the Ways and Means chairman from Missouri.

A few minutes later, Jordan conferred with Garbarino again, this time joined by the other New Yorkers who voted against Jordan a day earlier — Mike Lawler, Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota.  

But when D’Esposito’s name was called, he repeated his vote for Zeldin, and Garbarino, LaLota and Lawler followed suit in sticking with their anti-Jordan votes. (Lawler voted for McCarthy.)

Jordan managed to flip two votes in his favor, getting Doug LaMalfa of California and Victoria Spartz of Indiana to back him. But Vern Buchanan became the first Republican of the day to withdraw his support, voting for fellow Floridian Byron Donalds instead. Jordan also lost the backing of Drew Ferguson of Georgia, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa and Pete Stauber of Minnesota.

Over his nine terms in Congress, Jordan has developed a reputation as a partisan bomb thrower and bully more interested in getting on Fox News than getting bills passed. Democrats have already cast his potential speakership as proof of the GOP’s capitulation to the most extreme elements of their base as they look to win back the chamber in 2024. 

Like he did on Tuesday, Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California used his nomination speech for Jeffries to fling partisan zingers at the other side.

“I noted yesterday the legislative acumen of the gentleman from Ohio. Would it surprise anyone that … he’s never put a piece of legislation that has made it through a committee?” Aguilar said. “The speaker of the House must be a legislator, and the gentleman from Ohio falls short in that regard. He supports an extreme agenda and is hellbent on banning abortion nationwide, gutting Medicare, gutting Social Security, and giving cover to Jan. 6 attackers.” 

In his own remarks nominating Jordan, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma drew some Democratic heckles when he acknowledged Jordan’s advocacy for cutting the federal debt, including support for controversial proposals that would reduce the generosity of popular social safety net programs. “Unlike any other speaker we have had, he’s had the courage to talk about a long-term plan and to get at the real drivers of debt,” Cole said. “We all know what they are. We all know it’s Social Security, we all know it’s Medicare, we all know it’s Medicaid.”

The roll call hit a brief snag when Rep. John James of Michigan voted for Candice Miller, a former representative from the Great Lakes State currently serving as the public works commissioner of Macomb County, as members from both sides expressed their surprise at hearing the name of someone who resigned from Congress in 2016.

Before the roll call began, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, who voted for Jordan again on Wednesday, told reporters in the Capitol’s hallways that House Republicans might have to go back to the drawing board if Jordan started to lose votes. 

One option that seemed to gather momentum Wednesday would be allowing the speaker pro tempore, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, to do more in that role than he has so far. McHenry has interpreted the House rules that led to his appointment in the wake of McCarthy’s ouster as limiting his powers to just overseeing the speaker election, but some members say he could go beyond that. Others have suggested that McHenry could be formally elected as speaker pro tempore, perhaps with Democratic help, to manage passage of just a few necessary measures, like the annual appropriations bills.  

Among the voices calling for empowering McHenry this week were Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich

“Glad to see two former Speakers support the same plan!” Kelly wrote earlier this week on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after introducing a resolution to temporarily expand McHenry’s powers. 

When Kelly cast his surprise vote for Boehner on the floor Wednesday, he drew attention to his proposal. And he also helped make it a big day for former House members, with the names of not only Boehner, but also Miller and Zeldin, ringing out on the floor.

A few former members turned up in person too. Like a college freshman constantly crashing high school parties, Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, a close McCarthy ally, came to watch the frivolity for a second day in a row, sitting next to the former speaker. And he wasn’t the only former member hanging around: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, in town for a Bloomberg CityLab summit, watched from a seat in one of the visitors’ galleries. As the vote wrapped up, another representative-cum-senator, Ted Budd of North Carolina, showed up on the floor to look on. 

In the visitors’ galleries, the crowds were a little thinner on Day Two. Some groups of visitors came and went like they would on any other day of sightseeing in the Capitol. 

After the final ballot was cast but before McHenry could announce the tally, Jordan huddled with McCarthy and a few aides. After a minute of intense discussion, McCarthy pointed outside the chamber, and the men walked off together with their staffers in tow. Outside, the pair ignored reporters’ questions as they entered a room just off the chamber. 

The results of Wednesday’s votes make Jordan’s path forward harder to foresee. In January, McCarthy never saw more than 21 GOP holdouts as he horse-traded promises and pledges to create his ultimately unstable coalition. Jordan now faces 22.

Avery Roe, Ellyn Ferguson, Niels Lesniewski, Ryan Tarinelli and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.