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Hardball tactics by Jordan allies backfires in House speaker’s race

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) talks to reporters as he heads from his office in the Rayburn House Office Building to the U.S. Capitol on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images

An aggressive campaign by Rep. Jim Jordan‘s supporters is sparking backlash from Republican holdouts, making it harder for him to become the next House speaker.

Several GOP lawmakers, as well as one member’s spouse, have reported a barrage of calls and messages pushing them to back Jordan, R-Ohio, in his struggling candidacy. One even said she has received death threats.

The wife of Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., has received anonymous, threatening text messages this week pressuring her to persuade her husband to support Jordan.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said his staffers have been “cussed out” in phone calls from Jordan supporters.

And Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said he was so upset with pro-Jordan robocalls to voters in his South Florida district that he personally told Jordan to call off the attack dogs.

On Wednesday night, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, said in a statement that she’d received “credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls” after she switched her vote to another Republican in the second round of voting.

Jordan’s foes, who for the past two days have blocked him from winning the speaker’s gavel, face an aggressive pressure campaign from his allies and conservative grassroots activists to stop their opposition and flip to yes.

But the bloc of roughly 20 anti-Jordan Republicans say that they aren’t caving and that the hardball tactics are backfiring.

“One thing I cannot stomach, or support is a bully,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement, adding that she won’t be intimidated. “Someone who threatens another with bodily harm or tries to suppress differing opinions undermines opportunity for unity and regard for freedom of speech.”

In a post on the social media site X, Jordan condemned the violent threats and called for them to stop: “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.”

Moments after Jordan was rejected on a second ballot for speaker Wednesday, Gimenez recounted a tense phone call with Jordan on Tuesday.

“Robocalls — they’re not free. So somebody is actually funding this. And then he told me that he wasn’t behind it and he’s asked people to stop. But if you’ve asked people to stop it, why aren’t they listening to you?” Gimenez told reporters just off the House floor.

“I told him, ‘I don’t really take well to threats.’ … Matter of fact, if you threaten me, I’d probably go the other way,” he continued. “I probably head into the wind, not away from the wind, because if you succumb to threats and intimidation and all that, the rest of your life you’ll just be threatened and intimidated.”

Speaker nominees typically use carrots — including subcommittee gavels, seats on powerful panels and fundraising promises — to win over skeptics. It was a strategy deployed by Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the consummate insider, to secure the speaker’s gavel in January. But with the speaker vacancy happening in the middle of the session, Jordan has few carrots to hand out.

Jordan’s struggles emphasize the degree to which he owes his rise to his outside game, such as his talents for activating the conservative grassroots, making a splash on right-wing media and lighting up social networks with passionate GOP-leaning voters. His struggles also expose the weaknesses of his inside game, such as member-to-member relations and balancing fragile coalitions — skills that have historically been staples of successful speakers.

Jim Jordan loses second House speaker vote

“It’s terrible. I daresay you’re not really a Jordan ally if those are the tactics you’re using, because it’s just completely counterproductive,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a Jordan supporter.

“Sticks will not work with these people,” Crenshaw added. “I asked a lot of those original 20 against McCarthy who might think sticks work. But I’m like, it didn’t work on you! It’s not gonna work on them, either.”

A close Jordan ally, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said that his colleague has tried to turn down the heat but that outside pressure always exists in speaker’s races, including McCarthy’s back in January. Jordan spokesman Russell Dye said Jordan isn’t behind any of the attacks on his detractors and has called for them to stop.

“Mr. Jordan hasn’t made any threats or encouraged any attacks on any members voting against him or encouraged any attacks in any way. Neither has our team,” Dye said.

The Jordan defectors aren’t buying it.

“I think he’s absolutely responsible for it,” said Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., who said his office has been inundated with aggressive calls from Jordan supporters. “It doesn’t work. Nobody likes to have their arm twisted or talking about individuals’ wives. … That’s just not acceptable.”

Bacon’s wife, Angie, this week began receiving text messages from unknown numbers, pressing her to try to flip her husband’s vote to yes.

“Why is your husband causing chaos by not supporting Jim Jordan?” begins one of the texts Bacon shared with NBC News.

“Your husband will never hold elected office again,” the sender wrote when Bacon’s wife asked them to identify themselves.

“Tell your husband to step up and be leader,” reads another text shared by Bacon.

Politico first reported on the text messages.

House speaker chaos: Republican party still divided

More publicly, conservative media stars, including Sean Hannity of Fox News and Steve Bannon, the host of the “The War Room,” a livestreamed show, have also been urging the holdouts to back Jordan.

But the pressure campaign is clearly not having the desired effect, with Jordan losing 20 Republican votes Tuesday and 22 on Wednesday. To be elected speaker, he can afford no more than four GOP defections in his quest for the 217 votes needed to win.

“Jordan is headed for defeat. He’ll fight to death likely, and we won’t let off,” Bacon told NBC News on Wednesday. “Their tactics angered us. They’re harassing our spouses, even. Jordan hit a brick wall.”

Womack, one of the handful of House appropriators who have voted against Jordan, said his staffers have been dealing with continual profanity-laced phone calls from supporters furious about Womack’s no votes.

“They’ve been cussed out. They’ve been threatened. I’m not talking bodily threatened, they’ve just basically said very unkind things to my team. And it’s been nonstop,” a furious Womack told reporters. “And most of these are out-of-state calls; very few of them are from my district. … But when my staff has to absorb the brunt of this, you know, kind of verbal assault, then that’s just unacceptable.”

The tactics “won’t work with us. If the whole battle plan was to attack them, give him time to expose those members and go after them, then it’s an abject failure,” Womack added. “They didn’t read the room very well, and they don’t know these members very well.”

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