By Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Jim Jordan, founder of a hardline U.S. House caucus that a former Republican speaker derided as “legislative terrorists,” on Friday was nominated by his party to take the top spot, testing whether a longtime critic can lead the restive caucus.
Jordan, 59, was nominated for the role – second in line to the U.S. presidency after the vice president – after eight House Republicans, with the support of Democrats, voted his predecessor Kevin McCarthy out of leadership in a historic first and heir-apparent Steve Scalise dropped his bid.
It became clear on Thursday that Scalise would not win the support of 217 of the 221 House Republicans, and it was not clear if Jordan would do better.
Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, backed Jordan just days after McCarthy’s ouster. Jordan was one of Trump’s most vocal defenders when he was impeached twice during his 2017-21 term.
Jordan was first elected in 2006 to represent a deeply conservative rural district in northern Ohio and is a founder of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, a group that former Republican Speaker John Boehner labeled “legislative terrorists.”
While McCarthy was the first House speaker formally voted out of leadership by his colleagues, his two Republican predecessors Boehner and Paul Ryan also resigned under pressure from their right flanks.
Jordan’s elevation to speaker illustrates the narrow 221-212 Republican majority’s rightward shift over the past decade but could also test his ability to hold together a majority that can afford to lose just four votes on any measure that Democrats unite in opposition to.
FORMER WRESTLING COACH
Before entering politics, Jordan honed his pugilistic style during a career as a high school and university champion wrestler, and later as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University.
That past threatened his political career in 2018 when former students accused him of turning a blind eye to rampant sexual abuse of college wrestlers by the wrestling team’s doctor, when Jordan was an assistant coach.
Jordan denied all allegations, and a university investigation found no hard evidence that he knew of the abuse. But former wrestlers insisted that the doctor’s abuse was well-known and the report itself found that students had complained about the doctor’s voyeurism in front of coaching staff.
Jordan has often referred to his wrestling background in terms of his reputation as a fighter in Congress.
He is known for his aggressive style of questioning in committee hearings, most recently as chair of the Judiciary Committee which has been investigating accusations of political interference at the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I look at it like a wrestling match,” Jordan told the New York Times in an April interview, explaining how he prepares for hearings. “I’m going to try to get as ready as I can. You can’t just wing it.”
Jordan was an architect of the 2013 government shutdown over former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reforms, pushing again in 2018 for a shutdown over immigration reform.
In 2015 he was part of a group who threatened then-Speaker Boehner with a motion to vacate – the same procedure that removed McCarthy from office. The motion was never brought to the House floor, but the threat and constant pressure from the far right wing of the Republican party eventually led Boehner to retire early.
Boehner in a 2021 interview with CBS News said of Jordan: “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart.”
The Center for Effective Lawmaking, a research institute, has consistently rated Jordan as among the least effective lawmakers during his 16 years in Congress.
Jordan also earned a reputation as one of Trump’s most loyal allies in Congress, particularly during the impeachment proceedings and in promoting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud.
Beginning in August 2020 he suggested that Democrats were attempting to defraud election results through mail-in ballots, gave multiple media interviews insisting that Trump had won the election, appeared at a Stop the Steal rally in Pennsylvania, and spoke on the House floor on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, to object to Arizona’s results of the election.
Hours later thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“Jim Jordan knew more about what Donald Trump had planned for Jan. 6 than any other member of the House of Representatives,” former Republican Representative Liz Cheney, chair of the now-defunct House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, said in a speech last week.
Jordan has denied his involvement.
Jordan’s reputation as a firebrand haunted him in his run to serve as speaker, particularly with moderates who were concerned that his name would hurt their reelection campaigns in swing districts.
“The key is to unite the conference,” Jordan told reporters in announcing his intention to run. “I think I can do that.”
(Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)