An Expert on House Speakers Explains How Jim Jordan Is Not Like the Usual Contenders

An Expert on House Speakers Explains How Jim Jordan Is Not Like the Usual Contenders

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan still hasn’t locked up the votes he needs to be the next Speaker of the House. But on Tuesday, only a few holdouts remain standing between him and what could be a historic speakership.

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Matthew Green, a politics professor at the Catholic University of America who published a book in 2010 on the historical role of the Speaker, says a few aspects of Jordan and his political career would make his obtaining the speaker’s gavel stand out.

“He would be the most conservative speaker chosen by the House in at least 80 years,” Green says, noting that it’s Jordan’s reputation as an unflinching far-right conservative that has both boosted his speakership campaign and could doom his tenure in the role. 

“Jordan has a strong base of support, a lot of conservative grassroots activists who are really loyal to him,” Green says. “Are they going to maintain that loyalty if he has to make bills more moderate in order to pass them? Or is he going to stick to his ideological guns, in which case he may struggle to succeed legislatively?”

Legislation has never been what Jordan has been known for. Jordan was one of the founding members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which has routinely been a thorn in the side of the House’s Republican leadership. 

Since joining the House in 2006, Jordan has never had a bill passed into law. According to the Washington Post, he has sponsored very few bills that have gotten any traction. 

“Even speakers who aren’t legislatively minded in their careers, usually get some bills passed before they become speaker,” Green says. “If he’s never done that, the question is, does that reflect a lack of knowledge of the legislative process? And if it does, that’s a problem, because speakers have to know how the legislative process works in order to get things through.”

Online and in the halls of Congress, hardline conservatives have celebrated the possibility of having one of their own in such a powerful position. For many, the fact that Jordan does not have the typical congressional resume of many previous speakers is a strength. 

“Republicans aren’t really following the traditional leadership ladder here,” Green says, noting that Jordan is chair of the House Judiciary Committee but has not held other posts Speakers typically start with, particularly Majority Leader. 

It’s been two weeks since California Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his position as Speaker. As Jordan and his allies worked to get the votes they needed on Monday, many House Republicans seemed more concerned with installing a new Speaker than with exactly what Jordan would do once he got there.

The chaos of the process that might launch Jordan into the speakership is a sign of changing times. According to Green, it’s very unusual to watch the majority party cycle through candidates publicly the way Republicans have over the last week. In recent decades, both parties have struggled more to keep the process behind closed doors, but Democrats, especially under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have had an easier time getting rank-and-file members in line.

Republicans won back the House in last year’s midterm elections, but with a narrower majority than they had anticipated. That Jordan has been able to upend traditional norms to end up a handful of votes away from the speakership reflects that slim majority, which enables a few members to exercise disproportionate influence if they are willing to buck tradition. 

“The political environment has changed,” Green says. The grassroots pay more attention to speaker elections and holdouts and upstarts can find themselves rewarded with TV interviews and attention on social media.“That power of the media is often what drives members to defect on these votes in the first place,” Green says. 

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