Jim Jordan
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, talks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Washington: Hardline Republican Jim Jordan is set to take his sputtering bid for speaker to the floor of the US House of Representatives this week, hoping to bulldoze opposition from dozens within his own party by applying pressure in a series of public votes.

The political civil war that has consumed House Republicans largely behind closed doors since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster on Oct. 3 has already consumed two weeks that Congress could have spent funding federal agencies ahead of a Nov. 17 shutdown deadline and aiding the war efforts of US allies Israel and Ukraine.

With more than 50 Republicans opposed to Jordan, the show of dysfunction stands out for being driven by Republican infighting rather than Congress’ more customary partisan squabbles.

House Republicans are expected to meet behind closed doors on Monday and plan a floor vote for speaker at noon EST (1600 GMT) on Tuesday.

“We want to go to the floor as soon as possible,” Jordan told reporters after becoming his party’s second speaker-designate in as many days last week.

But with moderate Republicans already in talks with Democrats about a bipartisan alternative, the coming week could hold some surprises, particularly for hardline conservatives who have blocked progress on 2024 spending and ultimately ejected McCarthy from the top job.

“When we get back to Washington ... it’s important to begin to formalise those discussions,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Even Jordan supporters recognise the possibility of Democrats helping to elect an alternative candidate if Republicans cannot agree on a speaker among themselves.

“I would prefer there to be a Republican solution,” Representative Mike Turner, who backs Jordan, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If there is a need, if the radical ... handful of people in the Republican side make us unable to return to general work on the House, then I think obviously a deal will have to be done,” Turner said.

Narrow margin

Jordan needs 217 Republican votes to be elected speaker on the floor over Democratic opposition, meaning that he can afford to lose no more than four party votes from a slim 221-212 House Republican majority.

But 55 Republicans opposed the Ohio Republican in a secret ballot on Friday, some of them bristling with hostility after No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise was forced to withdraw from the speaker’s race a day after being chosen as the party’s first nominee, due to opposition from Jordan supporters.

“Jordan won’t get the votes,” said Representative Vern Buchanan, a Scalise supporter angered by the way the former candidate was treated by Jordan’s supporters.

Others worry that the speaker’s contest shows House Republicans to be at the mercy of an insidious strain of dysfunction.

“We’ve allowed a different process of democracy to take hold within our own conference, which is that majority doesn’t rule,” Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Jordan supporter, told CNN on Sunday.

“We’ve gotten away from that basic principle, and that’s really killing us,” the Texas Republican said.

Up to now, Jordan, his supporters and other Republicans have pushed to keep the fight for the speakership behind closed doors to avoid a recurrence of the public spectacle in January, when hardliners forced McCarthy to weather 15 grueling floor votes before being elected.

Trump effect

But Jordan supporters are now gambling that his endorsement by former President Donald Trump, and his popularity with the party’s Trump wing and other Republicans, will undermine opposition in a series of recorded public floor votes.

It is not clear how resolved establishment and centrist Republicans who oppose Jordan will prove to be in public.

But Jordan’s problems could extend beyond the dynamics of the speaker’s race.

The co-founder of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus - whose hardball tactics made him the bane of successive speakers - also faces a lack of trust among centrist Republicans who remember him as one of the chamber’s “legislative terrorists,” despite his recent alignment with McCarthy.

While McCarthy was the first speaker in US history ousted by a vote of the chamber, the last two Republicans to hold the job - John Boehner and Paul Ryan - also left under pressure from their right flanks.

Some of Jordan’s opponents predict that other Republican candidates for speaker will jump into the race if he fails to get elected on the floor.

Should Jordan’s bid for speaker stall, Republicans have identified several possibilities including No. 3 House Republican Tom Emmer, conservative Representatives Kevin Hern and Byron Donalds as well as acting Speaker Patrick McHenry, who is presiding over the speaker election.