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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jordan activates right-wing pressure campaign in push to win speakership

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) on Capitol Hill as Republicans held a succession of closed-door meetings about the empty speakership, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023.

By Karoun Demirjian

Rep. Jim Jordan and his allies have begun a right-wing pressure campaign against Republicans opposed to electing him speaker, working to unleash the rage of the party’s base voters against any lawmaker standing in the way of his election.

Even after Jordan, the hard-right Ohio Republican, won his party’s nomination for the post Friday, he remained far short of the 217 votes he needed to win the gavel, with scores of his colleagues refusing to back him.

In efforts to close the gap, lawmakers and activists close to him have taken to social media and the airwaves to blast the Republicans they believe are blocking his path to victory and encourage voters to browbeat them into supporting Jordan.

It is an extraordinary instance of Republican-on-Republican fighting that underscores the divisions that have wrought chaos inside the party, paralyzing the House of Representatives in the process. Several of Jordan’s supporters have posted the phone numbers of mainstream GOP lawmakers they count as holdouts, encouraging followers to flood the Capitol switchboard with calls demanding they back Jordan — or face the wrath of conservative voters as they gear up for primary season.

“You want to explain to your voters why you blocked Jordan?” Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Then bring it.”

The strategy is reminiscent of the bullying tactics that Jordan and his allies have used over the past decade to pull the GOP further to the right and borrows a page from former President Donald Trump, who is backing Jordan.

It is also an approach that helped propel the House GOP into its current leadership crisis. Republicans last year fielded several extreme-right congressional candidates who were popular with the base but ultimately could not win general elections in competitive districts, leaving them with a razor-thin majority in the House. A new generation of hard-liners has been able to exploit the tiny governing margin, dethroning one speaker and scuttling the bid of his heir apparent.

Jordan’s closeness with the former president has given him unparalleled cachet with the party base, and his backers were counting on that to help him prevail in a vote that could come as early as Tuesday.

While Friday’s votes were secret ballots, by Saturday, right-wing activists appeared to have identified about a dozen holdouts against Jordan as top targets for their onslaught.

Jordan’s supporters said his decision to send lawmakers home to their districts over the weekend rather than keeping them in Washington for one-on-one meetings to drum up support was a deliberate move to intensify grassroots pressure on them to fall into line.

“Everybody’s going to go home, listen to their constituents and make a decision,” said Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, predicting that hearing from the party base would help sway holdouts in Jordan’s direction. “Honestly, the grassroots, there’s nobody stronger.”

Despite being revered by hard-liners and branded a “legislative terrorist” by a former Republican speaker, Jordan has more recently allied himself with his party’s leaders.

The Ohio lawmaker backed the debt limit deal that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden and did not join the far-right’s move to grind the House floor to a halt in protest of that agreement, or its effort to oust McCarthy. He has already said he intends to have the House vote on a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open — the sin that got McCarthy booted — and has managed to keep conservative hard-liners in his camp.

But some mainstream Republicans are opposing Jordan on principle. They differ with him on matters of policy, nowhere more sharply than on continuing to fund the war in Ukraine, a priority for many of them to which Jordan and his “America First” allies are deeply opposed.

Many of them are also reluctant to reward what they see as bad behavior, by giving the far-right lawmakers who forced McCarthy from his post and touched off the current governing crisis their preferred leader.

“I’m a no on allowing Matt Gaetz and the other seven to win by putting their individual in as speaker,” said Rep. John Rutherford, referring to his fellow Florida Republican who forced the vote on removing McCarthy from the speakership, and the GOP lawmakers who voted with him.

That stance has earned Rutherford a target on his back from the hard right.

“@RepRutherfordFL would vote against Speaker-Designate Jim Jordan just to spite me,” Gaetz wrote on X. “I hope he gets some feedback from Floridians that this is selfish and bad for the country.”

It was unclear whether the pressure campaign would be able to net Jordan the votes he needed as the second candidate put forth in recent days as the Republican nominee.

Republicans first nominated Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana over Jordan by a vote of 113-99 on Wednesday, but on Thursday night, with no clear path forward, Scalise withdrew himself from consideration. Jordan sought to quickly consolidate support.

Then on Friday, 81 Republicans backed a late entry to the race, Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, to lodge a protest vote against Jordan. Scott quickly swung in line behind Jordan after his defeat. But on a second ballot asking simply whether GOP lawmakers would support the Ohio Republican if the speaker nomination went to the floor, 55 still said no.

Some conservative strategists close to Jordan believe he will easily be able to win over his detractors, institutionalists who put a high premium on a functioning government and projecting normalcy. Unlike the hard right, the strategists argue, staging a floor revolt simply isn’t in their nature.

“These 60 members are not voting against Jordan on the floor,” Russell Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America, a think tank with ties to Trump, and a strategist close to Jordan, wrote on X. “Take it to the floor & call their bluff.”

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