Aggresive Jordan piles up friends, critics

His ‘out for blood’ style is on full display in committee hearings.

To watch Rep. Jim Jordan grilling a witness testifying before his congressional panels can be a deeply uncomfortable experience.

It’s confrontational. It’s full of interruptions. It’s equal parts question and accusation.

During his decade in Congress, the Urbana Republican has gotten a reputation as someone you either love or you loathe. Tea Party conservatives adore him, viewing him as the face of a conservative revolution. Some of his more moderate colleagues, meanwhile, view him as, at least, an ideological splinter under their fingernails and at most, a leader of the very dissension that has ripped the Republican party into shreds. He is a founder of the Freedom Caucus, and it was he and other leaders of that caucus who met with House Speaker John Boehner hours before Boehner decided to retire from the House last year.

In person, he’s friendly and gregarious, with a ready smile, and his fellow Tea Party members clearly respect and defer to his leadership.

But on the dais, he’s out for blood.

“Jim’s bull-headed, Jim’s dogmatic, when he gets something in his mind like the IRS screwing people, he doesn’t let go,” said former Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrel Issa, R-Calif. “I see all of that as positive.”

Critics say he’s a bully, badgering and interrupting witnesses to score political points.

“People don’t like to see their representative being so disrespectful,” said Democrat Janet Garrett, who is opposing Jordan for the second time. “You can disagree with a person without being obnoxious. I don’t really know what he thought he was gaining by looking like a bully.”

Jordan, 52, a former wrestling coach, was never a prosecuting attorney. But you’d never know it by watching his hearings. Just as a wrestler looks for weakness in his opponents, so does the congressman dig, prod and push, hoping to poke at a weak spot in witnesses for the Obama administration.

In adopting that style, he has provided some of the most memorable moments of some of the most high-profile congressional hearings of the last few years.

When Congress invested Planned Parenthood for selling fetal tissue, he grilled Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, over and over, about why she’d apologized after video recordings revealed a doctor talking about selling fetal tissue.

When the Internal Revenue Service was found to be targeting conservative groups who sought tax-exempt status, he was one of the most aggressive questioners of IRS commissioner John Koskinen, whose impeachment Jordan later called for.

And when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a special committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that cost four Americans their lives, Jordan’s interrogation of Clinton was one of the most dramatic moments of an exhausting daylong hearing.

“When he locks his jaw on something, he’s going to get an answer,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who beat out Jordan to take the chairmanship of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee last year.

Jordan, he says, “has the right personality, because he’s secure in his own skin and he’s just seeking the truth.”

Chaffetz and others serving on those panels say Jordan is fulfilling a congressional responsibility. Congress has a duty to make sure the White House is accountable for the money they spend. Jordan, they say, is a take-no-prisoners defender of taxpayer dollars.

But critics say there is a fine line between asking hard questions and badgering. They argue that Jordan’s interruptions and accusations aren’t an effort to hold bureaucrats accountable. They say they’re an effort to score political points, plain and simple.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund called Jordan’s testifying “political bullying.”

She said Jordan used “the same belligerent bombast employed by our Republican front runner Donald Trump.”

And after watching Jordan’s questioning of Clinton, CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin, appearing on CNN “clearly the worst, the most unprofessional, the most misleading, the most really demeaning to the Congress in terms of his questioning.”

“When Representative Jordan really went after Hillary Clinton, it turned into this really repulsive spectacle that I think will really show very poorly for the Congress,” he said.

Those who serve on the panels, however, say Jordan’s interruptions are merely a tactic aimed at keeping the witnesses from filibustering.

“He does tend to — rightfully so — cut somebody off if they’re not answering the question and redirect back to the question,” Issa said. “That’s important because you’re trying to make a record of questions and answers, not long speeches.”

In an interview, Jordan defends the tone of his interviews, saying he’s got five minutes — 10 in the case of the Select Committee on Benghazi — and he wants to make them count. He prepares for these hearings for days, consulting staff, making long lists of questions and reading as much as he can. Time is of the essence.

He knows his style isn’t to everyone’s taste. After one particularly contentious hearing, his son gave him a call. “Do not look at your Facebook page,” the young man advised, not wanting his father to see all the negative comments.

“It’s all about getting to the truth,” Jordan said, maintaining that he tries to lay his questions out “in as logical and straightforward a way as we can.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Jordan’s chairman on the Benghazi panel, said hearings don’t often display the full scope of Jordan’s skills as an interrogator. A former prosecutor himself, Gowdy has been trying to get Jordan – who has a law degree – to take the bar. He said the effort Jordan put into questioning Clinton alone was exhaustive.

Issa said Jordan made the Oversight and Government reform committee his “key committee.”

“He’d be on the phone to staff as late as midnight, asking, ‘what about this and ‘can you look into this?’” Issa said.

Jordan always came to the hearings with more questions than he had the time to ask, Issa said.

That the committee is a priority to Jordan became evident last year, when he entered a three man race against Chaffetz and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, for the chairmanship. The race was contentious, but ultimately Chaffetz prevailed.

Issa, who pushed for Jordan to succeed him, said the committee has stopped doing the types of investigations it has done in the past.

He thinks something is missing.

“I would like Jim Jordan be chairman in the next Congress, no matter which person is president,” Issa said. “Because he has the willingness to be unpopular when he believes he’s right.”

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