As Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) waged his battle to become House speaker, some House Republicans were uncomfortable with the possibility of having an election denier occupying the most powerful legislative seat in the U.S. government heading into a presidential election year.
Jordan, who relinquished his nomination for the speakership on Friday after his third defeat on the House floor, was among the most prolific and vocal GOP lawmakers who worked to convince voters that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Donald Trump, and assisted Trump in his efforts to overturn the election.
Along with several of his peers in the House Republican conference, Jordan refused to comply with a subpoena for testimony from the House Select Committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Throughout the course of its investigation, the committee unearthed evidence that Jordan had materially relevant communications with Trump and others about activities pertaining to Jan. 6.
Jordan’s role in Jan. 6 and his election denialism were not an organizing nor central factor for the roughly two dozen Republicans who voted against his speaker bid. But some Republican lawmakers — even some who supported Jordan’s bid — raised concerns about his continued refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden’s 2020 election win when asked by peers this week.
Election denialism has remained a powerful but roiling issue in the Republican Party, despite a disappointing midterm performance in 2022 when election-denying candidates suffered a series of high-profile losses.
Among the numerous lawmakers who said they would seek to fill the speaker vacancy on Friday, only Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) voted to certify the 2020 election. Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Kevin Hern (R-Fla.), Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) all objected to the certification. Some staffers who served on the House Select Committee that investigated Jan. 6 also drew parallels between the tactics employed to stoke false claims of election fraud in 2020 and the pressure campaign waged this week against Jordan’s defectors.
During a conference meeting on Monday evening, when Jordan was asked by Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) whether he believed Trump won the 2020 election, he declined to answer the question directly, according to lawmakers who were in the closed-door meeting.
“He answered the question as if it was February 1, 2021,” said one lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the private meeting. “It was disappointing for many members” that Jordan could not succinctly answer “a simple question,” the lawmaker added.
On Friday morning, during his last-minute news conference in which he vowed to press ahead with his fledgling speakership bid, Jordan again would not definitively say whether he thought the 2020 election was over.
“I think there are all kinds of problems with the 2020 election — I’ve been clear about that,” Jordan said without citing any evidence. Nearly 90 different judges have ruled against Trump and his allies in their efforts to challenge or overturn the 2020 presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis.
“Jim, at some point, if he’s going to lead this conference during a presidential election cycle, and particularly a presidential election year with primaries and caucuses around the country, is going to have to be strong and say, ‘Donald Trump didn’t win the election,’ ” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told reporters on Monday.
Jordan amplified unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the run-up to and after the 2020 election. He also functioned as one of the key conduits, along with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.), from the House GOP conference to the White House in Trump’s quest to overturn his defeat. Jordan sowed unsubstantiated claims of election fraud across conservative media, encouraged Trump not to concede the election, spoke at “Stop the Steal” rallies, and met with Trump campaign officials ahead of Jan. 6, where they discussed social media tactics and the march to the Capitol.
Committee investigators also obtained White House records that showed that Jordan spoke with Trump on the morning of the Jan. 6 attack for 10 minutes. Jordan has never disclosed the content of their call.
Many fault lines have materialized in the House GOP conference since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as speaker earlier this month, and four of Jordan’s detractors were also among those who objected to certifying that Biden won the 2020 election. But the majority of them voted to certify Biden’s victory, including Buck, and Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), John Rutherford (R-Fla.) and others.
These lawmakers have been the target of credible violent threats and threatening phone calls, which some investigators and lawyers who served on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack view as an extension of some of the tactics employed to activate rioters who stormed the Capitol. The threats, which only hardened opposition to Jordan, included unnerving calls to staffers, spouses and family members. Some members took extra security precautions, including Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), who requested a sheriff be stationed at his daughter’s school.
Lisa Bianco, a longtime former House staffer who worked for the Jan. 6 committee, said that Jordan’s allies were following the same playbook used during the “Stop the Steal” efforts in 2020, and noted that even some of the lead “Stop the Steal” rally organizers were driving the pressure campaign against GOP holdouts.
“These groups broadcast messages over social media, imploring followers to attend in-person rallies, to fight and not back down, ultimately ending in the storming of the Capitol,” said Bianco. “Jim Jordan worked with those groups in 2020, even speaking at rallies, and now continues to deploy those strategies by denying the validity of the 2020 election.”
Amy Kremer, a co-founder of Women for Trump and one of the lead organizers of the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection, has been organizing “#JordanForSpeaker” rallies to target members opposing Jordan at their district offices. Kremer, who has touted deep ties to members of Congress over the years, has also posted the phone numbers of various lawmakers’ offices on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, encouraging supporters to call and voice support for Jordan. Kremer posted Friday morning the numbers for Scalise’s D.C. and district offices, urging people to tell Scalise to “call off the dogs and have his people support Jordan.”
Jordan has denounced the threats against Republicans who oppose his bid to become speaker. On Wednesday, Jordan tried to quell the anger by posting on X: “No American should accost another for their beliefs. We condemn all threats against our colleagues and it is imperative that we come together. Stop. It’s abhorrent.”
But Rutherford, a recipient of some of these threats, placed the blame for the toxic pressure campaign squarely on the Ohio lawmaker.
“He’s absolutely responsible for it, and look, it doesn’t work — especially against people like Steven [Womack (R-Ark.)] and others,” Rutherford said. “Nobody likes to have their arm twisted. Talking about individuals’ wives and those sorts of things? That’s just not acceptable.”
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who chaired the Jan. 6 committee, said that Jordan’s rise to speaker designate was a “sad commentary” on the state of Congress and the Republican Party.
“When you ignore the laws of the land, vote against a legitimate election, without any evidence to the contrary, and now to be speaker, is not good for the country,” Thompson said this week. “Jordan was part of the obstruction of the committee’s work and I don’t see him changing his colors.”
An previous version of this article misidentified the party affiliation of Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi. He is a Democrat, not a Republican. The article has been corrected.