WASHINGTON — An effort backed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to empower interim Speaker Patrick McHenry of North Carolina collapsed Thursday after it became clear it wouldn't get enough support from House Republicans.
Jordan, the GOP’s latest nominee for speaker, who lost two rounds of votes this week, had floated the idea of temporarily empowering McHenry while he worked to shore up enough support for his own candidacy, according to three sources. The plan would have empowered McHenry until January, the sources said, allowing legislative business to continue in the face of two wars and a looming government shutdown.
But leaving a heated, 3½-hour closed-door meeting with GOP members Thursday, Jordan said empowering McHenry was not a viable option. He said that it was a way to “lower the temperature and get back to work” but that “we decided that wasn’t where we’re going to go.”
Jordan reiterated that he was not planning to drop out of the race.
"I’m still running for speaker, and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race," he said.
Around 7 p.m., GOP leaders announced there would be no votes Thursday. A Jordan spokesman said the next vote was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.
Before the announcement, Jordan attended a separate meeting with the 22 Republican holdouts Thursday evening. But there was no breakthrough. As they left the meeting, Jordan's detractors said the goal of the meeting was to persuade him to drop out.
"Our mind is set," said Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla. "He needed to know there is no way forward for the speakership."
Though the effort to empower McHenry appeared to get some support from moderate members and even Democrats, several Republicans immediately threw cold water on the plan as they left the earlier private GOP meeting in the Capitol.
“This is the wrong thing to do,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a key ally of both Jordan and former President Donald Trump.
A second conservative Jordan ally, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., said: “It’s the biggest F-U to Republican voters I’ve ever seen. We need to elect a speaker. We were sent here to elect a speaker. It’s a cop-out. ... It’s a big mistake, and over half the Republicans in that room are against it.”
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan co-founded, also opposes the resolution: “We shouldn’t be setting this precedent or this will be the way we elect speakers from now on.”
Jordan “doesn’t need to drop out. I’m going to stay with Mr. Jordan to the end,” Perry added.
McHenry, the Financial Services Committee chairman and a former member of GOP leadership who helped negotiate the Biden-McCarthy deal, tamped down talk of the resolution, as well.
“If there is some goal to subvert the House rules to give me powers without a formal vote, I will not accept it,” he told reporters Thursday night as he went to adjourn the House for the day.
Earlier Thursday, McHenry said he was still working to elect Jordan as speaker, and that he was not having any discussions about the matter with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
“I am focused on electing Jim Jordan, who is our speaker nominee, as speaker of the House,” he told reporters. “That’s my goal. That’s my focus.”
Several GOP members expressed doubt Thursday that the plan would even make it to a floor vote.
“Reading the room, this thing is dead,” Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida told reporters about the resolution.
Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida said, “It’s pretty clear at our conference meeting that the resolution is not going to be supported.”
He added, “I think that’s pretty much over.”
Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, said that around “two-thirds” of the conference is against empowering McHenry and that they have discussed “four or five” names besides Jordan’s. Fallon floated Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., an Iraq war veteran and the chairman of the select committee investigating the Chinese Communist Party, as a potential candidate.
Tempers flared at Thursday's broader GOP Conference meeting.
At one point, McCarthy, R-Calif., stepped in and tried to calm the room. But when Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., his nemesis who forced the vote to oust him, stood up to speak, McCarthy shouted him down, two lawmakers said.
“Sit down!” McCarthy barked at Gaetz. “Yeah, sit down!” other Republicans chimed in.
When Gaetz tried to speak at the microphone, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., approached him in an aggressive manner but still remained about 15 feet away, lawmakers said. Gaetz made a motion with his finger at Bost, as if to say, “Bring it on,” according to the lawmakers.
Bost later apologized to Gaetz in front of the entire room, and Gaetz said he accepted the apology, the lawmakers said.
A senior Democratic source said Democrats had been “chatting” with Republicans about the McHenry empowerment plan.
Three Democratic lawmakers said that at a closed-door meeting Thursday, Jeffries told rank-and-file members that Democrats would support only a temporary speaker who meets the following conditions: someone who voted to certify the 2020 election; who has a track record of standing up to extremism” and defending democracy, as well as a “track record of governing”; and who has agreed to support the original debt limit deal struck between the White House and McCarthy.