Power struggle continues between party's factions of the harder versus the softer right
One half of the U.S. Congress remains paralyzed in an operatic spectacle of betrayal, bitterness and internecine backstabbing.
We'll get to the drama in an instant. But first, a summary of where things stand.
The House of Representatives is still headless as some Republicans discover that turfing their last leader was far easier than agreeing on a replacement.
The Republican Party is enmeshed in a power struggle between its factions of the harder versus the softer right.
Last week, more moderate members blocked the ascendancy of far-right favourite Jim Jordan. On Tuesday, the far-right faction blocked Tom Emmer, a more moderate conservative who has voted for same-sex marriage, funding for Ukraine and, critically, to recognize the results of the 2020 election.
Some of those votes made Emmer anathema to broad swaths of the modern Republican Party and its current de facto leader, Donald Trump, essentially killed Emmer's speakership bid by issuing a scathing statement against him Tuesday afternoon.
The collapse of Emmer's effort forced the party back to the drawing board. The chamber has now been paralyzed for three weeks. Meanwhile, challenges are piling up. There's pressure to fund arms for Ukraine and Israel, not to mention passing a budget bill, without which the U.S. government shuts down next month.
Late Tuesday, at a closed-door meeting, Republicans nominated their latest candidate after several failed attempts. The newest preferred choice comes from the party's right wing: Rep. Mick Johnson of Louisiana, a former constitutional lawyer for a Christian legal group, an opponent of same-sex marriage, critic of Ukraine funding and an organizer of Trump's effort to block Congress's certification of the 2020 election.
It remains to be seen whether he can muster the necessary number of votes on the floor of Congress, or whether he will fall short as Jordan did.
Jordan's thwarted ambitions may have been toasted as good news in certain quarters — in Ukraine, for example, given that the Ohio Republican has repeatedly voted against more aid.
His failure triggered bursts of cheer among those who viewed Jordan as spectacularly ill-suited for the job: a fast-talking, hyper-partisan, election-denying Trump ally who has appeared on Fox News more than 565 times but not once introduced a bill that became law.
His nomination would have been a historical anomaly.
One thing past House Speakers have had in common is they tend to be closer to the ideological centre of their party, a useful trait in a system of government that requires compromises between parties to pass most bills.
It was true from Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill to John Boehner and Paul Ryan and even Newt Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Nancy Pelosi, who were degrees removed from the fringes of their party.
Not so with Jordan. He is the fringe, tied for the farthest-right member of the House, who until recently was seen as a backbench rhetorical bombthrower whom Boehner once called a "legislative terrorist."
"There was a lot of baggage," one Jordan detractor, Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, said Friday as he left a meeting where it became clear Jordan had lost his colleagues' support.
Jordan was forced out after his colleagues made clear their feelings in a closed-door, secret ballot. He got only 43 per cent of votes cast.
But his many supporters in the party will fume, including the lively masses who feast on Fox News and who disproportionately vote in party primaries.
Their man, Jordan, nearly owned the big chair. But he kept falling just short in public votes on the House floor. Then he was soundly, definitively, repudiated in private.
'In very bad position'
"The most popular Republican in the United States Congress was just knifed, by secret ballot, in a private meeting, in the basement of the Capitol," said his Florida colleague, Rep. Matt Gaetz.
"It's as swampy as swamp gets. Jim Jordan deserved better than that."
This is the same Matt Gaetz who triggered all this by forcing a vote, earlier this month, to oust the last Speaker, Kevin McCarthy.
The former Speaker shouted at Gaetz in a members' meeting this week — telling him to stop talking and reportedly punctuating his admonition with a four-letter adjective.
"I told him to sit down. And he sat down," McCarthy told reporters this week. "I think the entire conference screamed at him. The whole country, I think, would scream at Matt Gaetz right now."
In McCarthy's telling, his ouster had nothing to do with substantive disagreements and everything to do with Gaetz being unhappy he wouldn't block an ethics investigation into him.
'No to insurrectionists'
McCarthy offered a dejected assessment after Jordan's ejection from the race.
"We are in a very bad position as a party — one that has won the majority, one that America has entrusted — that a simple eight people have put us in this place," he said, referring to the few Republicans sided with the Democrat minority to oust him.
So, why did Jordan falter?
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In a pre-mortem on his show this week, predicting impending failure, conservative radio host Erick Erickson cited five reasons.
One, Jordan was considered a Trump lackey. He was one of the most aggressive promoters of Trump's stolen-election lie, strategizingwith the former president right up to the day of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
Democrats repeatedly referred to this; it was clear they'd hang this label on vulnerable swing-district Republicans in next year's election.
"No to insurrectionists," Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly shouted on the congressional floor, as he voted against Jordan, to groans from Republicans.
In Erickson's view: "The House Republicans want their guy, not Donald Trump's guy."
A second factor he cites involves fundraising: McCarthy was prodigious at raising campaign funds for members, and Jordan has no reputation in that regard, he said.
Pressure from the far right
A third and fourth element involve resentment and fear. Resentment that people such as Gaetz could dump a consensus choice for Speaker, then dictate the replacement; and fear of accusations from multiple former college wrestlers that Jordan, as a coach, turned a blind eye to rampant sexual abuse by a colleague.
And finally, he cited an ugly outside pressure campaign.
Wavering members were swarmed by Trump's populist multitudes, both grassroots supporters and funded groups.
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"[Our office] got 600 calls — uniformly supporting Jim Jordan," said Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas.
It wasn't just regular calls.
One said his office lease was terminated by his landlord, a Jordan fan.
The pressure campaign even enlisted the right's favourite TV network as a pitbull. Fox News host Sean Hannity's show sent Jordan detractors a list of questions so aggressive they resembled a political attack more than a line of journalistic inquiry.
These tactics soured some lawmakers on Jordan.
A more moderate Florida Republican, Rep. Carlos Gimenez, said he'd have been open to a civil conversation; but he felt pressure, he said, and refused to enable that behaviour.
"Some people are getting threats," Gimenez said Friday. "Some people are getting threats against their wives and children. It's really very offensive."
There have been recriminations and counter-recriminations. Some of the group involved in ousting McCarthy offered to quit party positions if their colleagues would back Jordan.
Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, one of the rebels who ousted McCarthy, then backed Jordan, downplayed the death threats.
She called it heartbreaking but said it happens to her constantly — the implication being that this is an unfortunate reality of modern politics.
"I received four death threats last weekend, [and] the week before that, another two weeks before that," she told reporters. "I've had my house vandalized three times in three years. I've had my car keyed twice."
She said two of her family members had their cars broken into and her 80-year-old parents have been threatened multiple times.
"I have to carry a gun when I'm home," Mace said. "It's been going on for years, and it's a reflection of the times that we're in. It breaks my heart."
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