Jim Jordan fails again in US House speaker bid as Republicans eye backup plan
PHOTO CAPTION: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) confers with fellow Republicans including former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) after a second round of voting for a new Speaker of the House ended with Jordan once again failing to win the Speaker's gavel on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
By David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Katharine Jackson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Outspoken conservative Jim Jordan sought more time to bolster his faltering bid for the top job in the U.S. House of Representatives after losing a second vote on Wednesday, while his fellow Republicans considered a backup option for the leaderless chamber.
Jordan, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, for a second straight day fell short of the 217 votes needed to fill the vacant speaker's chair, as 22 Republicans and all 212 Democrats voted against him.
He said he would not make another attempt until Thursday at the earliest. "I think there will be a vote tomorrow," he told reporters.
That would be the third consecutive day of voting on Jordan's bid, ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy took four days - and 15 rounds of voting - to win the gavel in January.
The House is now in its 16th day without a leader, which has left Congress unable to respond to the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, or to take action to head off a partial government shutdown which will begin in a month without congressional action.
Jordan's vote total of 199 was less than the 200 Republican votes he secured on Tuesday. That is also fewer votes than McCarthy secured in any of the rounds of voting he endured over before being elected speaker.
Republicans who control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority have been unable to unite behind a speaker candidate since a small faction of them ousted McCarthy on Oct. 3. Before that, they took Washington to the brink of a government shutdown and the edge of default.
"It's just painfully obvious that what a lot of our people want to do we can't do," said Republican Representative Steve Womack, who voted against Jordan. "We'd like to elect a speaker and we can't even do that."
Other Republicans said it was time to consider a fallback option that would give increased power to Representative Patrick McHenry, who has been temporarily filling the speaker's chair.
"I don’t see the outcome changing," Representative Mike Lawler told reporters. "We need to empower Patrick McHenry to serve as temporary speaker so that we can do the work of the American people."
That idea has been floated by Republicans and Democrats, as well as two former Republican speakers, Newt Gingrich and John Boehner.
It could also buy more time for Jordan to line up support for the job after that point.
Democrats, whose support would likely be crucial, have made clear they want Jordan, a driving force behind multiple government shutdowns, out of the picture.
"Our preference is to reopen the House in a bipartisan way so we can govern in an enlightened way, moving forward," House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said.
One small sign of the uncertainty plaguing the Republicans played out in a Capitol conference room, where staff had ordered pizza for a party meeting that never occurred, leaving them to hand it out to workers.
Jordan's supporters say he would be an effective advocate for advancing conservative priorities in Washington, where Democrats control the White House and the Senate.
"I don't think anybody in here on any issue of any substance would have to guess where Jim Jordan is going to stand. He doesn't deceive. He doesn't dissemble. He simply tells you straight up," Republican Representative Tom Cole said as he nominated Jordan for speaker ahead of the vote.
But other Republicans have voted against him for a variety of reasons, including his positions on taxes, spending and disaster aid, and the strong-arm tactics of his supporters.
"Intimidation and threats will not change my position," Republican Representative Kay Granger, who oversees spending legislation as chair of the Appropriations Committee, said on social media after voting twice against Jordan.
New Republican alternatives aside from McHenry could also emerge if Jordan does not pick up support. Republicans who opposed Jordan voted for 10 different candidates, including Boehner and two others who no longer serve in Congress.
Jordan, a former wrestling coach, is a close ally of former President Trump and a founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.
Unlike previous House leaders, who gained influence by raising money and building broad coalitions, Jordan has made his name as a vocal leader of the party's hard right, tangling with Democrats and Republicans alike.
He helped drive Republican Boehner into retirement in 2015 and advocated for government shutdowns in 2013 and 2018.
A congressional investigation found that Jordan was a "significant player" in Trump's attempts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 election win.
As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, he has led investigations into Biden's administration and is a driving force in an impeachment inquiry of the president that Democrats say is baseless.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Katharine Jackson, additional reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)