If you thought the GOP-led House of Representatives was in chaos under Kevin McCarthy, Marjorie Taylor Green, and Matt Gaetz, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The search for a speaker to succeed McCarthy has exposed the deep divisions among House Republicans that could lead to another showdown next month, more gridlock, and a revenge impeachment of Joe Biden.
The immediate result is legislative paralysis – which could be bad news for Israel, facing its gravest crisis since 1973 and hoping for a new infusion of American aid.
Currently, the leading contender for speaker of the house is Jim Jordan of Ohio, a notorious firebrand and Donald Trump sycophant. He is one of the most extreme MAGA Republicans and a founder of the far-right Freedom Caucus, which former GOP speaker John Boehner dubbed “legislative terrorists.”
Colleagues are privately telling reporters that Jordan would be easily defeated in a secret ballot like the one in which he got only 124 votes for the nomination. He will need 217 when it goes to the full House. The GOP has only 222 seats in the House, so he can’t afford to lose more than four since every Democrat is certain to vote against him. It could be a repeat of January’s 15-round marathon that chose McCarthy.
The floor vote will be public so many lawmakers can be expected to shed any courage they express in private and vote like lemmings for a candidate totally unfit to be second in line for the presidency.
Yet this is the person the embarrassingly dysfunctional House GOP thinks should be next in succession after Vice President Kamala Harris, even though he is an election denier and insurrectionist who strategized with the Trump White House to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. On January 6, as Trump supporters were gathering to attack the Capitol, he said on the House floor that Trump won the election.
An election denier and Trump insurrectionist
How can anyone expect him to be able to represent the House in negotiations with a president whose election he voted to overturn? Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado) has said he won’t vote for a speaker who would not clearly say he believes the 2020 election was legitimate, and he’s been unable to get a clear statement from Jordan, who has been an energetic trafficker in debunked election conspiracy theories.
THE JANUARY 6 investigating committee called him “a significant player” and strategist in Trump’s failed coup attempt. He’s still at it, playing Trump’s lead defense attorney as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He has been using – and abusing – his panel’s power of oversight, investigation, and subpoena to harass and threaten state and federal officials investigating Trump and the insurrection. The expectation is that anything the prosecutors provide his committee will find their way into Trump’s hands.
He is a leader of the effort to impeach Joe Biden, but several hearings have proven an embarrassment, with one friendly legal witness saying Republicans just don’t have a case.
That won’t slow Jordan, never known for his fairness or open-mindedness. He created an oxymoronic subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government and made himself chair. He is using it to harass and threaten state and federal prosecutors investigating Trump, who so far, has been indicted on 91 felony charges.
Jordan apparently sees himself as Trump’s unpaid attorney (he graduated law school but has no license to practice law). The disgraced former president picked him for his impeachment defense because he is a gutter fighter. Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Jordan, says he has “a tragic flaw,” namely a “natural flair for authoritarianism” and defending people who “take power and abuse it.”
When Jordan demanded Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis provide him details of her investigation of Trump and his co-conspirators, her response was contemptuous and humiliating.
It is “clear that you lack a basic understanding of the law,” she responded to his demands. She accused him of “abusing” his authority by trying to “obstruct and interfere with a Georgia criminal prosecution.”
He tried the same intimidation with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg who was investigating Trump on a hush money case involving a porn star. It didn’t work then, either. Bragg rejected Jordan’s “unprecedented” attempt to “interfere with law enforcement.”
One of the GOP goals in the looming budget battle is to cut all funding for criminal investigations of Trump.
While railing at Willis and others for spurning his spurious subpoenas, he saw nothing wrong with doing the same thing when called to testify before the January 6 committee on his role in the coup attempt. He accused the panel of doing what he has actually been doing himself, staging a “partisan and political stunt.”
If he wins the speaker’s gavel it won’t be for his charm, subtlety or legislative skills. He is a bully, and his backers are waging a heavy-handed campaign, threatening holdouts with revenge by Trump and his followers. “The knives are out,” one lawmaker told reporters anonymously. Fox News reporter Sean Hannity is using his broadcasts and personal contacts with lawmakers to lobby for Jordan, explaining on air “it’s my job.” He cites the war in Israel as a reason to make him speaker.
EMERGENCY AID to Israel is one piece of legislation being held up by the GOP paralysis, along with help for Ukraine, which faces increasing opposition from the right, which many attribute to Trump’s grudge against Ukraine, which he blames for his first impeachment.
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, hasn’t weighed in publicly in the speaker contest but it did endorse Jordan in his latest reelection. He was among the first and most prominent election deniers its political action committee contributed to. That infuriated many in the Jewish community who saw Jordan as a right-wing extremist, pushing nearly everything they oppose in social and domestic issues. AIPAC shrugged that off, saying as long as someone is pro-Israel enough for them, the rest of the record doesn’t matter.
Politico reports many on the Appropriations Committee don’t trust his judgment on government funding and fear “he’ll embrace fiscal brinkmanship and steer the government into shutdown.”
If Jordan becomes speaker, he’ll be the second wrestling coach to hold that post and the second one involved in a sex abuse scandal. Disgraced former speaker Dennis Hastert was called a “serial child molester” by the federal judge who sent him to prison.
Jordan was assistant coach at Ohio State. A former captain of his team and several other wrestlers testified before the Ohio legislature that Jordan knew about sexual abuse of wrestlers on the team by the head coach and did nothing, according to Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. The brother of one wrestler told the state legislative hearing that “Jim Jordan called me crying, groveling… begging me to go against my brother.” Jordan insists he didn’t know what was going on.
He may or not become speaker, but he will still be a powerful and polarizing leader in the House and still be a leader of Trump’s defense and reelection at the expense of the national interest, whether it is helping two allies at war, Israel and Ukraine, or funding the federal government.
If any good emerges from this debacle it could be that moderate Republicans may take their courage out of a blind trust and begin retaking their party from the MAGA radicals.
And voters, fed up with the MAGA chaos and gross mismanagement, will elect a sizeable Democratic majority next year.
The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.