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WASHINGTON — As it turns out, Rep. Jim Jordan will not be U.S. House Speaker — thanks in part to three Texans who were part of the Republican resistance that blocked the Ohio Republican from the gavel.
Texas Reps. Jake Ellzey, Kay Granger, and Tony Gonzales joined a coalition of over 20 Republicans who refused to vote for the far-right Republican thrice this week, despite growing pressure from their peers and districts as Congress has ground to a halt. The effort eventually paid off with Jordan bowing out of the race Friday afternoon during a private conference meeting, where a majority of members indicated they’d lost faith in his chances.
It put the House even further from filling the speaker seat, amping up the immense pressure on members. Without a speaker, the House can’t pass legislation to aid Ukraine or Israel or begin work to fund the federal government for the rest of the year.
But Republicans opposing Jordan said he was nonetheless unfit to serve, citing a variety of reasons including his far-right positions, his election denialism and his embrace of political brinkmanship.
The resistance from three Texans also came as a bit of a surprise as they are not typically ones to hold up Congress to force their demands.
Ellzey, of Midlothian, is a second-term fighter pilot-turned congressman who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee with the other two Texas holdouts. He voted all three times for Rep. Mike Garcia of California, a fellow former fighter pilot and personal friend, for speaker (Garcia voted for Jordan).
Ellzey’s break from the party came as a shock, drawing audible gasps from the House chamber during Tuesday’s vote. Ellzey, an affable former state representative, is not usually one to hit back at his party or make waves, rarely if ever weighing in on personality issues with reporters.
He remained mum throughout the week about his reasons, but on Friday after Jordan ducked out, he gave reporters an explanation that provided new insights into Ellzey’s values and political alignment.
He said he didn’t see in Jordan the leadership that he expected of a speaker.
“I believe if you want to be the commanding officer of our group, you have to have years of sustained superior performance and I didn't see that,” Ellzey said.
Ellzey cited Jordan’s refusal to vote for a temporary government funding bill — an unpopular piece of legislation among far-right Republicans that ultimately led to McCarthy’s removal from the speakership. Ellzey acknowledged it was a politically difficult bill to back but he couldn’t stomach not passing legislation that would keep the troops paid. Ellzey said he would be looking closely at whether or not members voted for the spending bill when giving his endorsement for the next speaker candidate.
Ellzey also said he was disappointed in Jordan’s handling of the wave of vitriol directed toward members who refused to vote for him. Members opposed to Jordan’s bid reported facing death threats and harassment.
“Once you want to be the commanding officer, you’ve got to take care of your people. You’ve got to look out for their welfare, and that wasn't handled appropriately,” Ellzey said. “And so then I was dug in.”
He has a bipartisan streak going back to his victory in a 2021 special election. Ellzey ran against Susan Wright, the Donald Trump-endorsed widow of former Rep. Ron Wright who died of COVID-19. Ellzey maintained a deeply conservative platform, and Trump eventually congratulated him for his victory. But he’s made it clear he’s willing to reach across the aisle, focusing his campaign on collaboration in contrast to the more combative approach from Wright’s camp.
Once in Congress, Ellzey worked with Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in the development of veterans’ health care facilities in North Texas. Both served in the traditionally bipartisan House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Allred featured Ellzey’s face in his campaign announcement to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz.
Granger of Fort Worth is the most senior Texas Republican in the House. A long-time supporter of Republican leadership, Granger chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which allocates how much money federal agencies get each year.
Granger voted for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise for speaker in all three votes. Scalise had initially won the Republican nomination to be speaker until dropping out last week.
Members coming out of a Texas Republican delegation meeting Friday said Granger made clear to her peers that she was not wedded to any candidate. She was, however, steadfast in her opposition to Jordan.
She never publicized why she opposed Jordan so stringently. But their contrasting political philosophies likely played a role.
Granger belongs to a dimming generation of hawkish House Republicans who deeply value defense spending and aren’t as interested in the culture war limelight. She has been fiercely defensive of F-35 fighter jet construction in her district and continued defense aid to both Ukraine and Israel.
She also has a strong working relationship with the other “four corners” — the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. Though Granger distanced herself from the other top appropriators late last year in the passage of a massive federal spending package, she shares their sense of urgency in passing funding legislation and staving off a government shutdown.
Jordan, however, is the opposite. He made his mark engineering government shutdowns in a bid to force the end of growing federal spending. His ultraconservative Freedom Caucus has voiced concerns and outright hostility to continued funding to help Ukraine, saying the conflict is not the United States’ business.
Jordan moderated his tone somewhat on spending as he sought the speaker’s gavel. He expressed openness to a stop-gap funding measure to prevent another shutdown in November and appeared receptive to binding aid for Ukraine with assistance to Israel.
Granger refused to talk to reporters when approached, but said on social media that her opposition was “a vote of conscience and I stayed true to my principles. Intimidation and threats will not change my position.”
Ellzey said Granger never organized with other members of the Appropriations Committee to vote against Jordan.
Gonzales’ opposition came as less of a surprise. The San Antonio Republican has a history of rebuffing the right wing — to the point where he’s been censured by the Texas Republican Party. Gonzales came out early and loudly as one of the first Scalise endorsers when former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted.
Gonzales is also a member of the Appropriations Committee and bucked the rest of House Republicans over defense spending in the past. He was the sole Republican to vote against his party’s rules package in January. The package set the groundwork for House operations for the rest of the current Congress and was worked out between McCarthy’s allies and far-right members as a condition for their support for McCarthy’s speakership.
Gonzales feared the agreement would lower defense spending. Far-right members demanded a commitment from McCarthy to bring down federal spending to levels last seen in 2022.
Gonzales also entered a storied feud earlier this year with U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the deeply conservative House Freedom Caucus, who helped negotiate the rules package and was one of Jordan’s top cheerleaders. Gonzales excoriated Roy’s border legislation as too draconian, saying it was un-American and un-Christian.
The legislation eventually wound its way through the House and became House Republicans’ Secure the Border Act, which passed the chamber with Gonzales’ support. But the political damage had already been done. Before the bill passed, the Texas Republican Party censured Gonzales for his vote on the rules package and his initial opposition to Roy’s bill. The party also cited his support for legislation protecting same sex marriage and bipartisan safety legislation.
The censure motion makes him more vulnerable to his primary challengers. Kelly Perry, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said county party chairs and grassroots activists also slammed him for continuing to vote against Jordan.
But Gonzales brushed off the criticism and didn’t bother going to private party meetings to work through the speaker stalemate. He and his office ignored requests for comments throughout the saga, but he described his ethos in an interview last spring: “I don’t take any shit from anybody.”