During a campaign rally in suburban Columbus last Saturday, President Trump invited Rep. Jim Jordan to the stage. “How great is he?” Trump asked the crowd about the Ohio native. The packed school auditorium soon filled with chants, “Speaker of the House! Speaker of the House!”
Trump continued: “What a brave, tough cookie. I don’t want to wrestle him, he’s tough. I think he’s like 128 and one,” Trump said, referring to Jordan’s championship high school wrestling career. But the president—not a stickler for accuracy—was off by a bit. Jordan wrestling record was 150-1.
Jordan took the stage, got a bear hug from the president, and ticked off a long list of Trump’s achievements in office. “Think about this, in 18 months, regulations reduced, taxes lowered, Gorsuch on the court, the economy growing at a record rate, unemployment at its lowest rate in 20 years, Kavanaugh’s on deck on the court, we’re out of that crazy Iran deal, the embassy has gone to Jerusalem, and the hostages have been returned from North Korea.”
Will this mutual admiration society between the president and the congressman help boost Jordan’s chances to become the next speaker of the House?
In a letter to his Republican colleagues last month, Jordan announced he will run to replace outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan if Republicans maintain control of the House after the midterm elections. Jordan will face off against Ryan’s preferred successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and possibly Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
The feisty six-term congressman from central Ohio won’t go down without a fight. (His district is adjacent to the district where Republican Troy Balderson narrowly won a special election on Tuesday.) Similar to the president, Jordan is not afraid to speak bluntly or to offend the self-righteous sensibilities of the ruling class. Not only is the 54-year-old father of four a former state wrestling champion and college coach, he goes bare-knuckles against some of the most powerful interests in Washington.
His fierce questioning of Hillary Clinton, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards earned him praise from Republicans and sneers from the defenders of the status quo. Now Jordan, a lawyer, is blasting the Justice Department for stonewalling congressional demands for information related to the Trump-Russia collusion scheme. He’s been the target of media attacks, likely orchestrated by the same players who concocted and executed the Trump-Russia hoax. And he’s not waiting until he becomes Speaker before prodding his colleagues to act on major legislation this year.
“This September, let’s have a national debate on two issues,” he told me in a phone interview last week. “Start with welfare reform. Companies can’t find employees, they can’t find good people to work. But if you get some kind of subsidy from the government, you have to do something. Able-bodied people must do something for our tax dollars. Then border security and wall funding, that’s what we told the people we would do. The president is the one who will sell that.”
Jordan is peeved that Congress is not acting on its promises, such as repealing Obamacare. “There are lots of reasons why Republican voters took a risk with Trump, one is a frustration at the weakness of the GOP,” he said. “Compare what the president has done versus Congress. They keep sending us a message . . . they gave us the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016. We had better listen and do what they say.”
As a member of both the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees, he has been instrumental in exposing misconduct at the Justice Department during 2016 and 2017 while the FBI investigated Trump campaign associates. Jordan harshly criticized Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a House hearing in June, accusing Rosenstein of keeping information from Congress, making threats to House Intelligence Committee staffers, and advising former FBI agent Peter Strzok not to answer questions under oath.
“What’s so important that you know that you don’t want us to know, that you won’t give us the documents we’re asking for. What is so important?” Jordan seethed at a flustered Rosenstein. In July, Jordan introduced articles of impeachment against Rosenstein for refusing to turn over requested documents and concealing information in the documents that were finally released.
His run for the top spot in the House of Representatives admittedly is a longshot. Ryan and McCarthy are traveling around the country this summer, raising money for Republican candidates and PACs, a great way to build up political chits for a close Speaker’s race. But Jordan embraces his maverick status. “This will be a long campaign. Sometimes the guy who is the underdog ends up winning. I’m going to talk to the [Republican] conference and talk about how to really change the process. They don’t like the way the place is run,” he said.
One of his backers, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), echoed that sentiment.
“Jim is looking at restoring regular order, more transparency and allowing us to represent our constituency,” the first-term congressman told me this week. “When I first got elected, I didn’t realize the process was so closed and so controlled. It’s worse than I thought. We were looking at modifying the rules early on, and the notion that we needed more debate and more votes. One member said, ‘if we have to vote on every vote, we’ll never get anything done’ and I thought, ‘are you kidding me?’ We need to get the stuff out that a majority of Americans want.”
Biggs blamed a handful of senators in the Democratic minority for controlling what legislation the House considers. “We in the House of Representatives need to put out the best possible legislation regardless of whether the Senate wants it or not. Then we will show who is the obstructionist and who is not.”
Jordan has the support of other members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group he co-founded in 2015: Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) already have endorsed Jordan. Former Virginia Governor Ken Cuccinelli is backing Jordan, as is Fox News host Sean Hannity. FreedomWorks is planning to spend $500,000 to convince Jordan’s colleagues to elect him speaker after the midterms.
But one endorsement could really swing the race in Jordan’s favor: Donald Trump’s.
Although McCarthy was an early supporter of Ohio Governor John Kasich in 2016, the California Republican parted ways with Ryan and endorsed Trump before the Republican National Convention. Jordan also supported Trump for president and the two have a solid relationship.
“I talk to him regularly, talk to him a lot,” Jordan said of the president. “He genuinely cares about hard-working people. He likes that Midwestern work ethic.”
If Trump does get involved, his choice could come down to style. McCarthy has a low key public profile and is staying out of the fray between Congress and the Justice Department, a stance that may not be viewed favorably by the president. McCarthy’s close ties to Ryan, who has a strained relationship with Trump, might also work against him. Even if Republicans keep control of the House, it will be by slim margin. Would McCarthy take on the Democrats or try to find common ground with a party hell-bent on destroying the current presidency?
That’s where Jordan seems to have an advantage. His approach is much more aligned with Trump’s and if Democrats get close to a majority, it’s unlikely Trump will want to put the Speaker’s gavel in the hands of a Ryan-style political diplomat.
“People elected Trump as a change agent,” Biggs said. “Jim Jordan is a change agent.”
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