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Look closer and their body language starts to give them away. Dent laughs at his own jokes, reclines in his chair, legs crossed casually. Jordan, a former college wrestler, goes for the same hold from different angles, sits straighter, repeats the same line, sticks to the script. Catch him in the right mood, and Dent gives the colorful quote that makes the story. Jordan mostly leaves headline-making to his comrades, his bomb-throwing is in his legislative strategy.
They are profiles in the current dysfunction of the Republican House. Both demonstrate why John Boehner’s House is so hard to lead, why it’s difficult to get any kind of majority to pass GOP priorities — including Friday’s trade package that would give President Obama the power to negotiate trade deals, which the GOP leadership supports.
“I’ve come to the recognition some time ago that we don’t have 218 votes to determine a bathroom break so we might as well face reality,” Dent said.
With a series of deadlines coming up on everything from the Export-Import bank to government funding to the highway transportation bill, the continued chasm between House Republicans like Dent and Jordan shows that gridlock is just a way of life in today’s Washington. It’s not just Republicans and Democrats who can’t agree, but Republicans and Republicans. And the outlook for improvement is grim.
Dent, from Pennsylvania, sees the trade debate as an opportunity for party unity while Jordan, from Ohio, sees it has another opportunity to make demands. On Friday, Jordan, and his band of conservatives, voted against a key piece of the trade package, which brought down the whole thing.
Both lawmakers lead groups of like-minded Republicans, and even their clubs’ names are a study in contrasts. The moderates have the Tuesday Group. A name as innocuous as its day of the week namesake. It’s influence had waned over the years as conservatives in the House have grown. The name is so meaningless that sometimes they meet on Wednesdays.
The conservatives this year started the Freedom Caucus. It’s a name that evokes images of Mel Gibson in blue warpaint. It splintered from a larger conservative group that, in Jordan’s view, wasn’t fighting back enough. The name is a warning.
It’s not really policy that divides the two Republicans, but style. Dent says it’s unrealistic to deliver on every campaign promise. Jordan believes those political promises are gospel.
Dent and Jordan, in separate, recent interviews in their Washington offices, described their philosophies – and whether the other’s is hurting America, and their party.
Dent doesn’t want the intraparty fracas to provide Hillary Clinton, the Democrat’s presumptive nominee, ammunition before the 2016 election. But Jordan is not interested in holding back to win the White House. Be patient is an argument he heard before the GOP won the House, and again before the party took over the Senate.
“There’s always a reason to not do what you said you were going to do,” Jordan said. “Let’s make the case, make the argument, push as hard we can, do it in an articulate and compelling way, we’re in the business of persuasion.”
Repealing Obamacare. Stopping the White House’s immigration executive action. Protecting the sanctity of life. He ticks them off like a to-do list.
Since Republicans won the House in 2011, the conservative bloc’s strategy was to tie those priorities to major bills, an attempt to force Democrats’ hands. But in almost every case, the infighting has eventually led to a retreat by Republican leadership.
Earlier this year when Republican leadership made a deal with Democrats to pass a Homeland Security funding bill, 167 Republicans voted against it. Jordan’s group led the rebellion, standing firm that the bill include a takedown of President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
Dent rejected that approach. He told them it wouldn’t work. He urged caution.
“They say, ‘well you betrayed us.’ And I say, ‘no I haven’t betrayed you — I simply stated the obvious,’ which some of them find troubling or a revelation,” Dent said.
After that vote, many of his no-voting GOP colleagues approached him to quietly admit they were glad that the terrorism-fighting government agency stayed open, he said. He calls them, the “hope yes, vote no” crowd.
“I voted for it so you can vote against it,” he said he sarcastically told them. “Happy to help.”
In fall 2013, Jordan was among the Republicans who refused to vote for a bill to fund the federal government if it didn’t include language defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act. In the days before the government would (and did) shut down, Dent warned GOP leadership that as the deadline neared he was going to publicly rebuke their party.
“I was starting to get frustrated because I felt like too often leadership was appeasing the shrillest voices in the conference, giving too much consideration to the no votes when they should have been giving consideration to the yes votes,” Dent said.
The government reopened after 16 days with Dent and many Republicans – a number that grew with every passing shutdown day – voting to fund it with Obamacare intact. Jordan said he doesn’t “fight for fighting’s sake,” but he wants to be consistent with voters.
To hear Dent and Jordan explain it, they each sound rational, measured.
“I don’t pretend to be any kind of genius, but I do have decent tactical sense about how to move things … I have a sense of what you can do, this is not very complicated,” Dent said.
“I define what we should do by what we told the voters. Sometimes I think when people get to Washington they make it too complicated. What did we campaign on?” Jordan said.
For Dent legislating occurs in a gray area. For Jordan it’s black and white.
To both, it’s not complicated.