Rep. Jim Jordan, the founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, officially announced Thursday his intentions to run for speaker in a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Republicans, a development sure to hearten conservatives as the midterms get into high gear.
Jordan is the first person to launch an official campaign for speaker, but others are interested in the job. Incumbent Speaker Paul D. Ryan is retiring after this term.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has effectively said he will run, although he has not yet made a formal declaration of his candidacy.
“I’m spending the time keeping the majority,” McCarthy told NBC News when asked about Jordan’s announcement.
For both Jordan and McCarthy to run for speaker, Republicans would need to retain their House majority this November, an outcome that far from certain.
If Democrats take control of the chamber, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she plans to run for speaker again. The California Democrat became the first female speaker in 2007 and held the gavel for four years until Republicans regained the majority.
No one on the Democratic side has said they would run against Pelosi, but some members are considering it or urging colleagues to think about it.
Jordan’s candidacy is a clear message that he and his allies in the Freedom Caucus are not ready to back McCarthy for speaker — and frankly may never be.
Conservatives like Jordan prevented McCarthy from getting enough votes to be elected speaker in 2015, after John A. Boehner resigned. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is not planning to run against McCarthy, but is waiting in the wings to launch such a campaign if McCarthy falls short again.
Advantage to starting early
By announcing his campaign early, Jordan has the advantage of being able to more publicly court support from his colleagues. He starts with a smaller base of support than McCarthy or Scalise.
“He would have a lot of work to do to try and gain consensus of everyone,” New York Rep. John Katko, who co-chairs the centrist Tuesday Group said. “What we need is a uniter not a divider.”
Asked who he thinks could unite the conference, Katko said there were “plenty of good candidates” who could, but he doesn’t see Jordan as one of them.
Jordan does have his supporters. Most are members of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus — several of whom issued statements Thursday saying they support Jordan’s bid — but some like Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz are not.
Asked if he thinks Jordan actually has a shot, he said, “I think there’s a lot of game left to play.”
For Jordan that game began in earnest Thursday. He already had the backing of several grass-roots conservative groups, who had started campaigns to draft him for speaker. Now that he’s officially running, those groups can urge their members to call their representatives and ask them to support Jordan.
Jordan will obviously be making those asks himself too.
“Making the announcement now allows him to make calls over the summer break and reach out to individual members,“ Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.
The North Carolina Republican noted that Jordan is one of his closest friends in Congress and that he’ll obviously be supporting his bid.
The Freedom Caucus likely won’t take an official position on endorsing Jordan or weigh in on any leadership race, Meadows said, noting they generally take positions on policy.
“I would be very surprised if the vast majority of the Freedom Caucus members don’t support him though,” he said.
The caucus has three dozen members, as well as allies like Gaetz who are not official members of the group.
Jordan or any speaker candidate would first need to win votes from a majority of the GOP conference in a closed-door vote during the lame-duck session. Whoever emerges as the conference choice would then need to secure 218 votes, or a majority of the House, to be elected speaker on the floor in January.
The Trump candidate?
Jordan’s “Dear Colleague” letter makes clear that he’s going to paint himself as the candidate for speaker most aligned with President Donald Trump — despite McCarthy having a very strong relationship with the president.
“In November 2016, voters resoundingly rejected the status quo in Washington by electing an out-of-the-box Republican to drain the swamp and change how this town works,” Jordan said in the opening paragraph of his letter.
“So far, President Trump has made them proud. Our economy is growing and our country is safer. Though he often makes waves, the President is proving his critics wrong through bold, decisive action,” Jordan said.
Then, without naming Ryan, McCarthy, Scalise or any members of the current leadership team, Jordan blamed them for the GOP’s failures.
“At the same time, many believe that our congressional majorities have let them down,” he said. “Beyond tax relief and regulatory reform, the American people want us to follow through with our promises.”
According to Jordan, those include actually repealing the 2010 health care law, enacting spending cuts, overhauling the welfare system, building a border wall and overhauling the immigration system.
Jordan also criticized leadership for failing to hold firm in negotiations, like during a government funding fight earlier this year.
“We simply forfeited and did what the swamp always does: We gave more money to everything,” he said.
Jordan said Americans want Congress to end its “governing by crisis” and for Republicans “to stop caving so quickly” to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
The letter also outlines changes Jordan would like to see in the GOP conference, like “a complete shakeup of the process for selecting committee chairs” and general decentralization of power.
He suggested his colleagues begin a real dialogue about such changes when they return from August recess.
“For us to have a chance to make these changes, though, we must keep control of the House,” Jordan said. “I am committed to doing everything I can to help make that happen. That goal must be everyone’s top priority.”
“After that, we can focus on filling the vacancy resulting from Speaker Ryan’s retirement from Congress,” he added. “At that time, I plan to run for Speaker of the House to bring real change to Congress.”
In concluding his letter, Jordan turned back to Trump, saying the president “has taken bold action on behalf of the American people.“
“Congress has not held up its end of the deal, but we can change that,” he added. “It’s time to do what we said.”
Trump has not weighed in on who he thinks should be speaker, and it’s unclear whether he ever will. Several House Republicans have suggested Trump should not endorse in the race, saying it’s a decision to be made by the conference.
Ryan has endorsed McCarthy, a preference he reiterated Thursday when asked about Jordan’s candidacy.
“I’m not going to be here,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “I support Kevin McCarthy, everybody knows that.”
Ryan said Jordan had not spoken to him about his plans.
Jordan’s announcement comes a day after he and Meadows introduced a resolution to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a cause célèbre among conservatives and Trump allies.
Ryan and McCarthy, among other Republicans, have said an impeachment vote is not a good idea.
Watch: Jim Jordan and Rod Rosenstein’s Fiery Exchange in June
Pelosi, speaking about the impeachment resolution before Jordan’s speaker announcement, showed she is willing to remind the public of the unfolding scandal concerning Jordan’s time as an assistant coach at Ohio State University, where wrestlers there are accusing him of turning a blind eye to sexual misconduct on the part of the team doctor toward the wrestlers.
While Pelosi said Republicans are seeking to attack Rosenstein in an effort to hurt the special counsel investigation of Russian election meddling by Robert S. Mueller, she also brought up the Ohio State affair.
“What I’ve heard is that Jim Jordan wants to take away from the scrutiny that he is under in Ohio; that could be part of it,” she said.