Conservative Rep. Jim Jordan launched a long-shot bid for speaker of the House on Thursday, casting himself as a loyal foot soldier of President Trump and the best candidate to carry out the president’s agenda if Republicans keep their majority in the midterm elections.
Jordan (R-Ohio) argued that the GOP-led Congress has let Trump down in a letter to colleagues that announced his plans.
“President Trump has taken bold action on behalf of the American people,” he wrote. “Congress has not held up its end of the deal, but we can change that. It’s time to do what we said.”
Specifically, Jordan vowed to fully repeal the 2010 health-care law, build a wall along the southern border, make the 2017 tax cuts permanent and cut federal spending to avoid large deficits if he becomes speaker.
Jordan’s announcement made him the first Republican lawmaker to formally declare his desire to replace Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is retiring. His run represents a challenge to Ryan’s preferred successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has not yet announced his candidacy.
“I support Kevin McCarthy — everybody knows that,” Ryan said at a news conference Thursday when asked about Jordan’s plans.
Jordan declared his candidacy as he helps to lead an effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, underscoring his loyalty to Trump. Rosenstein oversees the Justice Department’s Russia probe, which Trump has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”
The announcement also comes amid recent questions about whether Jordan was aware, as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University three decades ago, that a team doctor allegedly was sexually abusing athletes.
Several former wrestlers have said the team discussed alleged misconduct by the late Richard Strauss in the locker room while Jordan was present; one has said he told Jordan directly that Strauss touched him inappropriately during appointments. Jordan worked for the school’s athletic department from 1987 to 1995.
Jordan denies that he witnessed, heard or knew about any sexual misbehavior by Strauss, who killed himself in 2005. The Ohio Republican interviewed last week with lawyers from Perkins Coie, a firm tasked with investigating the abuse allegations.
Jordan’s announcement, coming on the House’s last workday before a five-week recess, won swift praise from conservative lawmakers, who have signaled that they do not want McCarthy to claim the speakership without a fight. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) also is expected to seek the speakership.
“I appreciate [Jordan’s] willingness to put himself out there and try to make sure that this place works in a fashion that actually produces good results,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who is supporting Jordan’s bid.
Meadows said the speaker’s race will test who can make the best case about “how they’re going to make sure that this place operates well in the long run.”
Activists and groups on the conservative right enthusiastically welcomed the news with their own nods to Trump.
“The president is delivering, but Congress remains crippled by the status quo,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. “It’s time to shake up Congress and elect a principled conservative to the speakership.”
FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said Jordan “would succeed where Speaker Ryan failed.”
“Far removed from the corrupt Washington establishment, Jim Jordan is a man committed to draining the Swamp,” Brandon said in a statement.
To be elected speaker, Jordan will have to ensure that Republicans maintain a majority in the House in November’s midterm elections. Democrats need to flip about two dozen seats to take control.
A McCarthy ally, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), suggested that Jordan’s announcement was premature for that reason.
“We need a majority first, and that’s the main priority of Republican leaders in the House,” said McHenry, the chief deputy whip.
Asked whether Jordan’s bid made clear that conservatives want an alternative to McCarthy, he said, “There is ambition everywhere.”
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, restated his support for McCarthy when asked about the race.
“We’ve got to focus on keeping the majority first,” he said.
If Republicans keep their majority, Jordan would then have to convince 217 fellow party members to support his campaign, since any speaker must be elected by a majority of the full House. Republicans hold 236 seats, but virtually all nonpartisan election forecasters expect their majority to shrink after the midterms.
Some Republican lawmakers said they are hesitant to back someone so closely identified with some of the GOP’s messiest internal fights over the past decade.
“He represents a faction of the conference, but some of that activity over there to me is sometimes counterproductive,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said, predicting that Jordan will struggle to gain the necessary votes.
“Under no circumstances will I support Jim Jordan for Speaker,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) tweeted, noting her support for McCarthy. “I would urge [Jordan] instead to support his colleagues this November instead of focusing on his own personal leadership aspirations.”