Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) failed in a single round of voting Tuesday to win enough Republican support to become the next speaker of the House, extending the GOP’s chaos and uncertainty over who should lead the chamber after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted two weeks ago.
Twenty Republican lawmakers voted against Jordan in the first and only ballot Tuesday, a far greater number than the four GOP votes he could afford to lose. Afterward, Jordan and his allies scrambled to wrangle additional support and initially vowed to return to the House floor Tuesday night — but ultimately said they would come back Wednesday rather than risk a second failed vote in the same day.
“We’re going to keep working, and we’re going to get to the votes,” Jordan said. “I’ve had good conversations. We’re going to keep working.”
Jordan’s near-grasp of the speaker’s gavel has been bolstered by his ultraconservative bona fides. He was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and has been a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump, supporting him in his effort to overturn the 2020 election. But Jordan’s candidacy for speaker also has highlighted the House Republican conference’s deep divisions, which have been laid bare in several high-profile fights this year over the nation’s debt limit and the appropriations process.
Republicans have insisted they need someone who can unite the different GOP factions moving forward, but the divisions, hurt feelings and anger run deep, resulting in another failed attempt to elect a speaker and seemingly widening the rifts.
Jordan and his allies had projected confidence heading into the vote Tuesday, after spending the weekend mounting an aggressive pressure campaign to try to win over more than 50 Republicans who remained skeptical — or who outright said they would never vote for the hard-right conservative.
But the effort to strong-arm holdouts to bend Jordan’s way irked a number of Republicans, pushing them to oppose Jordan — or dig in more deeply against his candidacy. Many Republicans had telegraphed since last week that Jordan would fall short of the necessary 217 votes in the first round of voting on the House floor.
Minutes into the ballot, those predictions came true. Several moderates representing swing districts, and Republican appropriators tasked with writing the legislation that funds the government, cast their votes for other people. Ultimately, Jordan lost 20 GOP votes — more than McCarthy did during his first round of voting in January — and several of the holdouts seemed entrenched in their position afterward.
Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.), who voted for McCarthy over Jordan, told reporters that he thought McCarthy needed to “get another shot” at the speakership. He also blamed Jordan’s hardball methods for costing him votes.
“His tactics certainly didn’t work on me,” Gimenez said. “Actually, I became more cemented in my position. … He should have probably left me to my own devices to get there. Now by being threatened, by being pushed — I’m Hispanic. I’m a Cuban. You just don’t do that to us.”
Several of the GOP lawmakers who voted against Jordan represent districts that President Biden won in 2020, and they were concerned about their chances for reelection if they backed Jordan, who is well-known as a conservative firebrand.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, one of three New York Republicans who cast votes for former colleague Lee Zeldin, had expressed reluctance Monday night about supporting Jordan. He represents a purple district and was hesitant to get behind someone who had voted against 9/11-related legislation and Hurricane Sandy relief — two things his district desperately needed at the time. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), a moderate freshman, said he would withhold his support from speaker candidates without reliable commitments to similar issues that are important to his district, including reforms to state and local tax deductions that disproportionally affect New Yorkers and residents of other high-cost states.
After the failed vote Tuesday, lawmakers returned to their offices to await guidance from leadership on whether they would go into conference or return to the floor for a second ballot. Jordan remained persistent.
“The House needs a speaker as soon as possible. Expect another round of votes today,” Jordan’s spokesman, Russell Dye, said in a statement after the ballot. “It’s time for Republicans to come together.”
But tensions continued to run deep in the Republican conference, with allies of both Jordan and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), his initial rival for the speakership, sniping at each other. After the vote Tuesday, Jordan met with Scalise, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
There, Jordan asked for help: Some of Scalise’s allies, including Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), had flipped over the weekend and ultimately voted for Jordan. However, seven other Scalise allies continued to support the Louisiana Republican on the floor.
Scalise was noncommittal on releasing his allies to Jordan, according to one of the people familiar with the meeting. Asked about this, Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine pushed back, noting that the congressman and some of his allies had voted for Jordan on the floor “and will continue to do so.”
“Leader Scalise has been the only candidate throughout this process who has publicly declared he will be supportive of whomever the conference nominates for speaker, and his position has not changed,” Fine said.
Another person close to Jordan’s team and familiar with the meeting claimed that, before the floor vote, Jordan asked Scalise to give a nominating speech for him and that Scalise declined. Fine said this claim was “not accurate.”
But what has contributed most to the bad blood between their allies was that Jordan never formally conceded in front of House Republicans after Scalise defeated him for the party’s nomination last week, though Scalise soon dropped out of the running.
“My vote for Steve Scalise was a matter of principle,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said in a statement Tuesday. “He defeated Mr. Jordan in our conference vote and then was promptly kneecapped before he could win over his opponents. It was the most egregious act against a sitting member of our conference I have witnessed in my thirteen years of service.”
Throughout the day Tuesday, Democrats remained united in backing House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) for speaker — just as they had been in January during the 15 rounds of voting it took to elect McCarthy. More House members voted for Jeffries than Jordan: 212 Democrats for Jeffries and 200 Republicans siding with Jordan.
Leading up to the voting, Democrats cast Jordan as an election denier who was too extreme to lead the House, making reference to his role as a key ally in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Jordan also defied a subpoena during the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“A vote today to make the architect of a nationwide abortion ban, a vocal election denier and an insurrection inciter to the speaker of this House would be a terrible message to the country and our allies,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday in his nominating speech for Jeffries. “It would send an even more troubling message to our enemies — that the very people who would seek to undermine democracy are rewarded with positions of immense power.”
Aguilar also noted that Jordan had not passed a bill in 16 years, prompting two far-right hard-liners, Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), to cheer.
On Tuesday evening, Jeffries said it is clear that Jordan lacks the votes to become the next speaker and urged Republicans to “get off the sidelines, break away from the extremists, get in the arena” and “find a bipartisan path forward.” He encouraged Republicans to partner with Democrats to reopen the House, though he did not name any specific lawmaker he thought would be able to draw support from both parties as speaker.
But the most viable path forward should Republicans conclude that they are unable to elect a speaker, multiple Democrats and Republican lawmakers and aides say, is to expand the powers of the temporary speaker, Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.).
A growing number of Republicans said they would support an expansion of the temporary speaker’s powers. The Republican Governance Group, a coalition of moderates, signed off on a resolution Tuesday evening that would give McHenry more authority to run the House until Jan. 3. One Democrat who is working with the Republicans said the idea is gaining “momentum.”
There are “informal conversations that have accelerated over the last few days,” Jeffries said. “My hope — now that it’s clear Jim Jordan lacks the votes to be speaker — [is] that those conversations will accelerate this evening.”
Led by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), five GOP holdouts who are staunchly against Jordan also began to publicly circulate their support for holding a floor vote to elect McHenry as speaker. Their continued opposition was also a signal to Jordan that he remained far from winning over enough votes to become speaker.
On Monday, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who voted for Scalise during the first ballot, started passing around a resolution that would expand McHenry’s powers by temporarily declaring him the “elected” speaker pro tempore rather than the “designated” one. Under Kelly’s resolution, McHenry would have expanded powers until Nov. 17 — the day the government faces a potential shutdown if appropriation bills are not finalized — or until a new speaker is elected.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he supported expanding McHenry’s power to oversee critical pieces of legislation, such as providing supplemental aid to Israel in its war against Hamas and funding the government.
Asked if he would support expanding McHenry’s powers, Jeffries said McHenry is “respected on our side of the aisle” but added that there was “a whole host of Republicans who are respected on our side of the aisle.”
Jordan, he said, was “not one of them.”
“Jim Jordan is a poster child for MAGA extremism,” Jeffries said.
Opposition also remains among some Republicans.
“I’d like to talk to the lawyers about that,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said about empowering McHenry. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Theodoric Meyer, Jacqueline Alemany, Liz Goodwin, Paul Kane, Azi Paybarah and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.