Jim Jordan snags more Texas support in troubled bid for House Speaker

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 12, 2023. (Julia Nikhinson For The Texas Tribune, Julia Nikhinson For The Texas Tribune)

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WASHINGTON — Several Texas Republicans rallied behind U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid to become the next speaker of the House on Friday during the party’s second attempt at selecting its nominee for the job. But the path to filling the top vacancy in the U.S. House remains uncertain.

House Republicans voted 124-81 to nominate Jordan, a far-right Ohio Republican, as their next speaker Friday. Several Texans changed their stances to support Jordan after previously voting for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise in another vote Wednesday. Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, dropped out of the race for speaker Thursday night.

U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Nathaniel Moran, Dan Crenshaw and August Pfluger all said Friday they supported Jordan after initially backing Scalise. Reps. John Carter and Pat Fallon refused to say how they voted Friday after publicly backing Scalise earlier this week.

Still, the Republican candidate for speaker needs at least 217 votes to secure the gavel, meaning Jordan’s victory is still many steps away.

Friday’s vote was by secret ballot in a closed-door meeting. Staffers were not allowed, and members had to check their phones in cubbies outside the room. After the first round of voting Friday, the conference voted again to solidify support for Jordan, with 152 voting in favor of the nomination and 55 opposed. One person voted present in Friday’s second round. Over a dozen Republicans simply did not show up at all.

Scalise’s withdrawal made Jordan the next most obvious choice, but he still faced considerable resistance Friday. U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Georgia, entered his name into the race at the last minute, opposing Jordan in Friday’s election. Though he doesn’t have nearly the name recognition or institutional support of Jordan, Scott came to embody a number of moderate Republicans wary about giving the leadership to one of the most conservative, unflinching members of the House.

Scalise initially won the party’s nomination to be speaker during the party’s first attempt to select its nominee for the job on Wednesday. The Louisianan had the backing of most Texas Republicans at the time. But Scalise’s surprise withdrawal from the race came after it became clear he could not rally enough support to win in the full House.

Among the Scalise backers were several of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s top allies within the Texas delegation, including House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington and House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul. U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales also came out as a die-hard Scalise supporter. At least 12 members voted for Scalise while at least seven voted for Jordan during Wednesday’s vote, though several members refused to say how they voted.

Meanwhile, members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus always tended toward Jordan, who was a cofounder of the far-right group. U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, Michael Cloud and Keith Self, who all fought for greater influence for the far right during January’s tumultuous speaker race, all supported Jordan from the beginning. Other far-right members, including allies of former President Donald Trump, like Troy Nehls and Ronny Jackson, also backed Jordan.

Though Scalise and Jordan each had a few fervent backers, the majority of Texas members said the two candidates were materially the same on policy. They said the most important factor was who could unify the fractured conference and they would back whoever had the support of the majority of the conference.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, who initially backed Scalise, said before Friday’s vote that he would back anyone who could fill the spot and wrangle House Republicans, saying time was running out on key legislative priorities. Federal funding legislation expires in about a month, potentially leading to a government shutdown, and there is a wide bipartisan sense of urgency to send military aid to Israel following last weekend’s attack by Hamas.

“You can't play ball without a pitcher. We need to get going.” Williams said. “I'm going to look at the whole options to get everybody on the field”.

Regardless of how they voted, the Texas delegation was united in its frustration that they had to pause the House schedule to select a new speaker at all. McCarthy was removed after eight mostly far-right members (none of them Texans) voted with the entire Democratic Caucus for his ouster. Several Texas members felt it was petty and personality driven.

U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz, who won her McAllen competitive seat last year with the help of Republican leadership under McCarthy, excoriated the far-right rebellion.

"I have sometimes compared Washington, D.C. to a telenovela, and I will admit that comparison may have been off. In many ways, it is a lot worse,” De La Cruz said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to stop the nonsense and get back to work.”

De La Cruz represents the most competitive House district in Texas, and Democrats are planning to invest in flipping the seat next year. Several House Republicans in vulnerable seats have also expressed frustration, saying the actions of the far right within their party could alienate some of their moderate voters.

McCarthy told reporters Friday that he felt the process has done “real damage for us moving forward. I fear different people retiring. I fear of having the resources to be able to do the job.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have been watching with frustration as dysfunction holds up any floor action.

“It is unconscionable that Republicans are not seeking to collaborate with us to address this,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso. “They keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That's the definition of insanity.”

While some moderate Republicans and Democrats held modest discussions about forming a centrist coalition with more power sharing between the two parties, the idea failed to gain much traction among most Republicans.

“I think we can do without Democrats,” Williams said going into a conference meeting Friday morning. “We are in leadership. We got elected, we're leaders, and we've got to lead.”

And if there were to be a moderate Republican to lead a coalition government, Democrats were clear to say that Jordan would not be that candidate. Jordan was a major participant in former President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election results.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a centrist Democrat who said he would be open to voting for a moderate Republican in a power sharing deal, said Jordan is “divisive as they come” and his own party can’t get behind him, let alone Democrats.

Escobar derided Jordan as “an insurrectionist and the architect of a prior government shutdown.”

“This is a man who literally and figuratively has tried to burn this place down. I am stunned and profoundly disappointed, and I hope their constituents offer them a wake-up call as they fly home,” Escobar said.