With the 2018 midterm elections months away, experts are eyeing two scenarios for House Republicans: One: they lose the House majority. Two: They keep the majority, but it shrinks.
For U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the first scenario is a nightmare.
The second could make him one of the most powerful people in Washington.
Jordan, who saw his two endorsed GOP candidates for Ohio U.S House seats fall in the May 8 primary elections, nonetheless has not lost any political capital with their defeat. Most of the roughly three dozen members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which he founded, are in safe seats heading into November.
Instead, it’s House GOP moderates who are more likely to lose their seats, meaning that even with the primary defeats of Melanie Leneghan and state Rep. Christina Hagan in Ohio, Jordan stands to gain ground next year, providing, of course, that House Republicans keep their majority.
That may not mean that Jordan becomes the next House speaker — an idea the Urbana Republican floated in the aftermath of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to retire at the end of this Congress. But it may mean having enough votes to be the deciding factor in what does and doesn’t pass the House.
That power was on display Friday when Jordan and the Freedom Caucus helped defeat a Republican farm bill over an immigration dispute.
Should the GOP hang onto the majority, said one Ohio Republican political strategist, Jordan “has a little more influence, absolutely. He can prevent us from getting to 218 (votes necessary to pass a bill) or he can help us to get 218. And we’ll need him every time we need to get to 218.”
Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said there is a ceiling on Jordan’s power.
“I have a hard time seeing how Jordan will have the votes to be speaker,” Kondik said. “It’s not like he needed one Melanie Leneghan to do that. He probably needed 50 Melanie Leneghans.”
In the odd math of politics in Washington, however, ultraconservatives like Jordan gain when the party loses seats.
“The reality is the only time we really have power with Republicans is when it’s close,” said Tom Zawistowski, a tea party leader from Portage County in northeast Ohio. “The worst thing that happens is we hold all the state offices and a supermajority in the House and Senate because then they don’t need you, they don’t need your vote…you’re better off with 51 votes in the Senate, because if they have 60, they can tell (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul to go pound salt.”
Jordan, a former wrestler elected to the House in 2006, founded the House Freedom Caucus in 2015. Since then, that caucus – which numbers only two or three dozen – has held an out-sized influence on the House Republican caucus, which often needs their votes in order to reach the 218 majority threshold.
Their lack of support for a GOP replacement bill to the 2010 health law known as Obamacare contributed to Ryan’s decision to pull the bill. More recently, the group was among those who voted against a mammoth spending bill. But they were also key in the passage of the 2017 tax overhaul, which Jordan calls one of the few legislative achievements of this Congress.
In 2015, the Freedom Caucus’ demands were one of the reasons then-Speaker John Boehner decided to resign. Boehner, in an October 2017 interview with Politico, called the group “anarchists” who “want total chaos.” He’s been quoted as calling Jordan a “legislative terrorist.”
Whether it is as speaker — Ryan has endorsed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for the speakership — or in some other capacity, Jordan’s focus is on pushing the agenda to the right.
“What we’re trying to do is impact policy in a way that we told voters we are going to do, in a way consistent with the mandate entrusted to us in 2016,” Jordan said.
The Republican speaker battle won’t take place if Democrats capture the House in November. But conservative groups are already touting Jordan for the post.
Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy for FreedomWorks, a tea party-affiliated organization, said his organization has received 25,000 signatures on a petition they’ve circulated calling for Jordan to run for speaker. He called Jordan “kind of a cult hero” to the group’s activists.
But others in the party see him as more of a divisive figure.
“With Jim Jordan, everyone has a strong opinion of him,” said one Ohio Republican political strategist who spoke on a condition of anonymity. “Nobody is ambivalent. Nobody doesn’t care. And the problem with that is there are 30 people who love him and a whole bunch of people who don’t like him.”
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