Throw another potential challenger into the compelling Republican race to be speaker of the House, a job that might not even be available to the GOP when it frees up next year. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder and former chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Friday that he might be interested in the job.
“There is no speaker’s race right now. Paul Ryan is the speaker,” Jordan said, according to the Washington Post. “If and when there is, I’ve been urged by colleagues to consider that and I am definitely open to that.”
There may not officially be a speaker’s race right now, but the race to replace Ryan atop the House Republican Conference is very much on. The secret jockeying, backroom whispering, and catty television appearances have neared a breaking point. Members won’t be able to pretend much longer that the impending power vacuum can wait seven months before being addressed.
Jordan, if he enters the leadership race, will not serve as either speaker or majority leader. That’s not what this move would be about. It’s about manifesting the Freedom Caucus’ leverage to choose the ultimate winner.
Jordan is loved and respected within the Freedom Caucus but loathed by much of the rest of the House Republican Conference. He is a conservative troublemaker, a thorn in the sides of both Ryan and former Speaker John Boehner. His bouts with the latter were legendary. During the debt ceiling fiasco of 2011, Jordan, then chairman of the Republican Study Committee, got in trouble when it was revealed that a staffer of his urged outside conservative groups to pressure members into killing a Boehner debt ceiling deal. The Columbus Dispatch later reported that Ohio legislators considered drawing Jordan into a more competitive district during its redistricting process. Boehner denied the claim, saying that while they may not always agree on strategy, they were “friends and allies, and the word retribution is not in my vocabulary.”
Years later, in a candid 2017 Politico Magazine profile, Boehner shared his true feelings on Jordan. “Fuck Jordan,” he said. “Jordan was a terrorist as a legislator going back to his days in the Ohio House and Senate. A terrorist. A legislative terrorist.”
That opinion is widely shared among the Republican rank and file. Jordan would have far, far too low a ceiling to win a speaker’s race on the floor. But he would have just high enough a floor to play kingmaker.
If Republicans manage to hold on to the House, the next speaker would need 218 votes out of a much narrower GOP majority. If the Freedom Caucus rallies behind Jordan as their choice, that gives them veto power over both Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, or anyone else who might emerge. It then becomes a process of extracting concessions. When Ryan became speaker, for example, he pledged to the Freedom Caucus that he wouldn’t bring to the floor any immigration bills that the majority of the majority didn’t support. In order to win over Jordan supporters, the next speaker might have to offer Freedom Caucus members similar policy pledges, prized committee assignments, or even a seat at the leadership table for a Freedom Caucus member, be it Jordan or someone else.
The Freedom Caucus is not shy about using its leverage and has every intention of doing so in a would-be speaker’s race. Now that leverage just might have a name.