A decade after one shutdown ended, the House shutdown goes on and on
On Oct. 17, 2013, federal agencies fully reopened after a 16-day shutdown of the entire government — the longest continual stretch in which the entire workforce went with threat of no pay.
Exactly one decade later, House Republicans tried to elect as speaker one of the main architects of that shutdown strategy, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), potentially elevating him to the most powerful post in Congress.
Someone who has never passed a single law in nearly 17 years in the House. Someone who led the way on the strategy of a five-week partial shutdown of the government in late 2018. Someone who helped orchestrate the early resignation of a previous speaker. And someone whose allies orchestrated a political hit on last week’s speaker nominee, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), so that they could try to bully the rest of the House Republicans into accepting Jordan.
With another potential shutdown exactly one month away, Jordan’s elevation seemed to make perfect sense in today’s GOP.
Until 20 Republicans stepped in and declared that common sense had to prevail. They blocked Jordan’s speaker bid by voting for a collection of other GOP officials, leaving him trailing House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) by 12 votes, 212-200, and a full 17 votes shy of the simple majority required to win the gavel.
After hours of closed-door huddles and phone calls to the holdouts, Jordan emerged from a first-floor office to declare that he would try again Wednesday morning.
“We’re going to keep working, and we’re going to get to the votes,” he told reporters, suggesting he would keep going and going with many ballots. “Till we get a speaker, we got to have a speaker.”
Jordan, to be clear, did not say he would keep going until he became speaker, just that someone would have to win.
The chamber adjourned, incapable of taking any action until electing a speaker — the 14th straight day without a functioning branch of government. If Republicans cannot elect a speaker by Friday, the House shutdown will eclipse the 2013 shutdown of the federal government in duration.
Each side dug in deeper. Jordan’s allies have said for days that their objective was to expose holdouts in public through the alphabetical roll call on the House floor, then let outside conservative media and think tanks lead a political pressure campaign on his behalf.
Some of the 20 who voted against him are ready — happy to see that their ranks grew far above the minimum five votes they needed to block Jordan.
“I will not be pressured or intimidated,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the ringleader of the anti-Jordan wing, told reporters after Tuesday’s vote. Later in the day he issued a letter asking for another vote immediately, apparently sensing no wilting among the 20 antagonists as word spread of possible further defections from Jordan.
Diaz-Balart is one of seven members of the House Appropriations Committee — responsible for funding the federal government — to oppose Jordan. The opponents also included four members of the House Armed Services Committee, another panel with traditional Republicans wary of Jordan’s past willingness to cut defense spending.
About a half-dozen more opposition votes came from Republicans in swing districts, where Jordan’s pugilistic conservatism falls out of step with voters. And a couple of others are just upset with how a tiny minority on the far-right flank treated Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was booted out of the speaker’s office two weeks ago, and Scalise, who withdrew last week as the nominee.
Behind those 20 are at least 35 more Republicans, who on a secret ballot Friday suggested they did not want to vote for Jordan in the public roll call.
They voted for Jordan on Tuesday mostly out of political cover to placate the vocal number of conservative voters who populate town halls and actually know Jordan’s career on the right. These Republicans don’t want him to be speaker, but they fear the comfort of their office could be disrupted by a conservative primary challenger next year. But if he continues to lose ballots, Jordan might start losing support from those lawmakers.
The reality is, Jordan is very, very popular in certain Republican circles, but also very, very unpopular in other circles. Matched up against Scalise last Wednesday, just 99 Republicans voted for Jordan.
Perhaps more embarrassing, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) entered Friday’s vote to challenge Jordan after Scalise fell, with a campaign message that boiled down to “vote for me, I’m not Jordan.”
Jordan received just 124 votes, leaving an incredible amount of ground to make up in just a few days.
Rather than bow out gracefully, like Scalise did last week and McCarthy did eight years ago when Jordan kneecapped his first bid for speaker, Jordan decided to fight his way to the House floor.
In modern Republican life, it fit the moment.
Donald Trump bulldozed his way to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination by winning state after state with a plurality of the vote, as the majority voted for a variety of anti-Trump candidates. He won the general election with just 46 percent of the vote, as a couple of independent candidates splintered votes away from Hillary Clinton.
Heading into the 2024 nomination contest, Trump is poised to repeat that performance as polls in the early states show him with a massive lead but often below 50 percent.
Jordan had spent the early phase of his career weaponizing minority-rule tactics to try to get his way. In 2015, members of the House Freedom Caucus, co-founded by Jordan, drove then-Speaker John A. Boehner into retirement a few months earlier than he had secretly planned. The caucus had intended to force a vote to vacate the chair, as the parliamentary vote is known, which felled McCarthy two weeks ago.
And the October 2013 shutdown happened through a blockade that Jordan and his allies ran in the House, where they got many Republicans worked up against funding the government unless they could defund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
An overwhelming majority of the House, including Democrats, wanted to keep the government open, but the House conservatives worked with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) so that they could also filibuster efforts to move bipartisan spending bills.
The government did shut down, and the public overwhelmingly blamed Republicans. The strategy failed.
By 2019, with Republicans out of power, McCarthy, then the House minority leader, attempted a new strategy with Jordan and brought him into his inner circle. For four years, he has been more of a team player, but good-governance Republicans like Diaz-Balart have never forgotten his past.
On Sept. 30, knowing that a small band of far-right antagonists might try to oust him, McCarthy decided to not shut down the government, allowing a vote on a very basic stopgap bill to keep agencies funded until mid-November.
Jordan was among the 90 Republicans to oppose the bill to keep the government open.
As Tuesday’s action drew to a close, most GOP lawmakers assumed they would convene in the Capitol basement meeting room where they have vented off and on for two weeks.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), an ally of McCarthy who also served as a prominent Jordan supporter, suggested that another all-member meeting would serve little purpose.
He jokingly — half-jokingly — suggested to put a rake in front of the room the next time they gather.
“So every Republican can step on it and get whacked,” Armstrong said.