WASHINGTON — Combative right-wing Republican Jim Jordan on Tuesday (Oct 17) sought more time to build support for his bid for speaker of the United States (US) House of Representatives after coming up short in a first vote, raising questions about his prospects for winning the job.
Lacking the 217 votes he needs to claim the speaker’s gavel, Mr Jordan postponed further action until 11am local time (11pm Singapore time) on Wednesday, while he scrambled to pressure the 20 fellow Republicans who voted against him on Tuesday afternoon.
Democrats seized on the prolonged Republican infighting to make the case for a compromise candidate that would enjoy the backing of both parties — a sharp departure from how Congress typically functions after the unprecedented ouster of speaker Kevin McCarthy on Oct 3.
“There’s only two paths: either you’re going to continue to bend the knee to the most extreme members of your conference, who are not interested in governing; or you can partner with Democrats to do the business of the American people,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said.
Tuesday’s failed vote meant that the House remains leaderless, as it has been since a handful of Republican insurgents engineered Mr McCarthy’s removal. That has left Congress unable to respond to wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, with just a month to go before the US government faces another partial shutdown deadline.
It was not clear whether Mr Jordan, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, would pick up more support or see his opposition grow in a second vote on Wednesday. Mr Jordan got 200 votes in the first round — the lowest tally Mr McCarthy ever saw during 15 rounds of voting over four days in January.
Mr Jordan told reporters he was “making progress” after several hours of closed-door talks with Republicans.
“We gotta have a speaker and it can’t be some deal with the Democrats,” he said.
Mr McCarthy was ousted for reaching a deal with Democrats late last month to head off the fourth partial US government shutdown in a decade, triggering the current period of dysfunction.
If Mr Jordan prevails, a conservative who has spent years fighting with leaders of his own party could end up in one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, putting him second in line for the presidency behind the vice president.
First he will have to win over more of the 20 Republicans who voted for other candidates.
Many of them are moderates who represent politically competitive districts, while others specialize in negotiating the complex spending bills that keep the US government running, deals that typically require a willingness to compromise.
‘I WILL NOT BE PRESSURED’
Several Republicans from the New York City area said they voted against Mr Jordan because he opposed benefits for survivors of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, as well as tax policies and disaster aid that would help their residents.
Others objected to high-pressure tactics to get them to fall in line. “I will not be pressured or intimidated,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, who voted for Mr Scalise.
Representative Ken Buck said he was concerned that Mr Jordan has still not acknowledged that Mr Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Democratic President Joe Biden.
Mr Jordan was a “significant player” in efforts to overturn Mr Trump’s election defeat, a congressional investigation found.
Republicans control the House by a narrow 221-212 margin, giving them little room for error on divisive votes like this one.
New Republican challengers could emerge if Mr Jordan does not pick up support. Potential candidates include Mr Tom Emmer, the No 3 House Republican, and Mr Patrick McHenry, who is temporarily filling the speaker’s chair.
Mr Jeffries, the Democratic leader, said there have been “informal conversations” with Republicans about giving Mr McHenry more powers to ensure the chamber can take up pressing matters like aid for Israel and Ukraine and US government funding.
Democrats have painted Mr Jordan as an extremist who would take orders from Mr Trump.
“We are talking about someone who has spent their entire career trying to hold our country back,” Democratic Representative Pete Aguilar said on the House floor.
A fixture on conservative media outlets, Mr Jordan has used his perch as chair of the House Judiciary Committee to help lead an impeachment inquiry into Biden that Democrats decry as baseless.
He helped found the House Freedom Caucus, which then-Speaker John Boehner dubbed “legislative terrorists” before members of that group pressured him to retire. Mr Jordan was an architect of government shutdowns in 2013 and 2018.
Before entering politics, Mr Jordan served as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University. Former students in 2018 accused him of turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of college wrestlers by the wrestling team’s doctor. He denied those allegations and a university investigation found no hard evidence that he knew of the abuse. REUTERS