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A "legislative terrorist" tries to become Speaker
Jim Jordan as a symptom of the deinstitutionalization project
What are the factors that make for a good Speaker of the House? Surely it involves the ability to manage factions, and to understand and protect the institution that you lead.
Whatever the criteria, Jim Jordan fails to meet them. His rise as a candidate signals how the Republican Party has shifted focus from governing to deinstitutionalization.
At time of writing, it is not clear if Jordan will become Speaker. He fell 17 votes short of what he needed, and a second vote was postponed until the next day. And yet…200 Republicans voted for Jordan to be Speaker despite his singular lack of qualification for the job.
There are questions about Jordan’s character. He has faced accusations that he was aware of sexual abuse occurring when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State. It is remarkable that even with the shadow of Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach and serial child molester who served as Republican Speaker in the 1990s, more Republicans are unconcerned about the accusation.
These concerns are not offset by Jordan’s record as a legislator. Indeed, even if the accusations did not exist, his record should be disqualifying. Jordan has been in the House for 16 years, becoming one of its most visible members, one of the few people who is close to being a household name. But what has he done?
Jim Jordan is a spectacularly ineffective legislator. He has never passed a bill. The Center for Effective Lawmaking, which measures the ability of legislators to advance legislation has consistently ranked Jordan as among the least effective Republican in the last five Congresses. How will Jordan lead a legislative body when he has no skills at legislating?
He is among the most extreme members of Congress: He is ranked among the very worst members of Congress in terms of engaging in bipartisan actions. In large part, this is because Jordan focuses on MAGA red meat topics when he proposes legislation.
His influence is built on what former Speaker John Boehner, described as legislative terrorism. This involves threatening his own party leadership, holding the government for ransom, by, for example, pushing for shutdowns, or proposing to close the FBI or Department of Justice. Boehner also said “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart—never building anything, never putting anything together.”
Jordan has been a key player in institutionalizing conspiracy theories in the House, forming the subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government whose primary purposes is to launder GOP talking points into headlines and to intimidate perceived enemies of Trump, whether it be misinformation researchers, or prosecutors.
Even if we set this dismal record of legislative destruction aside, there is one reason Jordan should not be Speaker. It is the same reason that Trump should not be President. Jordan has, through his actions, broken his oath to defend the US constitution. It is, it seems, too much to hope that Republicans would choose a leader who did not vote to overturn the last election. Both former Speaker McCarthy and the first nominee to replace him, Steve Scalise joined with the majority of the House Republican caucus to do so. But is it really too much to ask for a Speaker who did not play an active role in an attempted coup?
Jordan’s role has been well documented. He pushed Big Lie claims and also was in close communication with the Trump administration about how to usurp the constitutional process of selecting a President with the goal of keeping Trump in power, despite his loss. The January 6th committee labeled Jordan as a “significant player” in Trump’s efforts to stay in government. He met with White House staffers involved in the plot, including Rudy Giuliani, multiple times. He looked for ways to bend Congressional power to stop the election certification, including persuading Mike Pence to not recognize electoral votes, thereby cancelling the votes of the majority who had chosen Biden. He then refused to respond to a subpoena from the House-appointed January 6th committee to review what happened.
In a functioning democracy, Jordan would have been expelled from the House for his actions. Now he looks to lead it.
Jordan is someone who has refused to work with the other party, undermined his own party, sought to destroy government capacity, fed mistrust in government, attacked Congress, and then used his power to legitimize fellow radicals. It is not just that he would be an ineffective Speaker. He would be a deeply destructive one.
I think the big story of the last American decade has been the attack on institutions, and the failure of those institutions to repel the attackers. But that story is driven by a key institutional actor - the Republican Party - injecting people who openly despise those institutions into positions of leadership. Trump is the most obvious example. But every Trump needs his Jim Jordans. And every Jim Jordan needs a majority of Republicans, those who label themselves as moderate, mainstream, or problem solvers, to acquire the power to destroy.
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