Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was hoping to be elected speaker of the US House of Representatives on Oct. 17, but it was not to be as 20 Republicans declined to back him. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was ejected from the position in a historic vote the previous week, and though Republicans then nominated Steve Scalise (R-LA) for the speakership, he stepped aside when it became clear he would not have the votes to win the gavel. Every Democrat in the House voted for his or her own leader, Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
Jim Jordan Speakership Still in Doubt
In a sign that the contest is far from over, Jordan announced late Tuesday afternoon the House would not vote again that day. The assumption, then, is that he still has some work to do to get the Republicans who did not vote for him onboard.
It wasn’t going to be easy for Jordan, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, to win over the more moderate wing of the Republican conference. In the first round of voting, he received just 200 GOP votes. Scalise got the backing of seven members and McCarthy received six votes. Both McCarthy and Scalise backed Jordan, who needed 217 to claim the speaker’s gavel.
Twice before in US history, the House shifted the voting threshold to end protracted battles for the position. This goes back to pre-Civil War times, though. In 1849, a 19-day House speaker vacancy was ended when a resolution was proposed that would elect the candidate with a plurality of the votes. Democrat Howell Cobb prevailed with 63 votes. At that time, the 31st Congress had 233 members. The Democrats held a majority with 113 seats.
The 34th Congress faced a similar struggle to elect a speaker in 1856. After two months, the House voted for the plurality solution, and Nathaniel Banks claimed the gavel with 103 votes out of 234.
Under the normal rules, a speaker must be elected by receiving a majority of the votes – a majority meaning, of course, more than half of all voting members. To win with a plurality, one must simply get more votes than one’s opponent or opponents. This would be a dangerous game for the Republicans. With their slim majority in the House today, a miscalculation of how many members supported the Republican nominee – in this case, Jim Jordan – could hand the speaker’s gavel to the Democrats. After the Oct. 17 vote, Jeffries had all 212 Democratic votes and would have been elected speaker if the threshold was a plurality.
Democrats Revel in the Chaos
Rumblings at the Capitol suggest that at least one of the 20 holdouts has decided to support Jim Jordan, but that still leaves him well short of a majority. Democrats are describing Jordan as an “extremist” because of his relationship with former President Donald Trump. The fact that Jordan is also one of the leading figures in the Republican investigation of President Joe Biden’s role in his son Hunter’s questionable business activities almost certainly contributes to the Democrat assault on his potential speakership. No doubt, moderate Republicans or those occupying vulnerable seats are loath to back the fast-talking conservative bulldog.
In the meantime, it is perhaps much ado about nothing to claim that the House is flailing – or even failing – without a leader. The lower chamber gets to write its own rules, and there is still a speaker pro tempore, North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry. As McCarthy has observed, there is no reason why McHenry shouldn’t be able to assume the full duties of speaker until the vacancy is filled. But that would require the approval of Democrats who, despite referring to House Republicans as the “Chaos Caucus,” appear to be in no mood to end the supposed chaos by agreeing to let McHenry fill the role and get the House back to work.
Most Americans would agree that Congress has been dysfunctional for at least the last couple of decades. The longer the speaker drama continues, the more opportunity Democrats have to pin that dysfunction on the GOP.