It’s been the Republicans’ mess. House Democrats have had no real power this week to get their own speaker candidate, minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, over the finish line. Still, they had plenty of thoughts on the GOP shit show for which they had front-row seats.
“Guess they still haven’t learned their arithmetic!” former Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared as she exited the House chamber, a huge grin on her face, after Wednesday afternoon’s floor vote, which saw radical right-winger Jim Jordan go down to a crushing second defeat. As speaker, Pelosi famously did not bring business to the House floor unless she knew she had the votes to pass, a governing ethos clearly absent in the current GOP majority.
“Their civil war continues,” sighed Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, of the GOP dysfunction on display. “A bipartisan path forward,” shouted Representative Lauren Underwood, an Illinois Democrat standing nearby. “That’s our rallying cry!”
Jeffries earned every Democratic vote present during Wednesday’s vote for speaker, a repeat performance of the unity the party showed on the first vote, on Tuesday, which stood in stark contrast to the mess across the aisle. Jordan, ostensibly still the GOP nominee for the role, earned one vote less on Wednesday than he had the day before, finishing with 199 votes from his party. Twenty-one House Republicans voted for someone else, with some alluding to disillusionment with the ham-handed tactics by Jordan supporters to get their votes.
“Jim Jordan is unfit to lead,” said Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat. “As a survivor I find it particularly indefensible that he was not there for those victims in Ohio,” she added, referring to a sexual misconduct scandal involving the college wrestling team that Jordan coached for a few years at Ohio State University.
“I think I was surprised that they would revisit those issues when generally in public life the idea is to move on,” said Representative Richard Neal, another Massachusetts Democrat and former chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, of the many scandals circling Jordan’s candidacy for speaker, including the Ohio Republican’s frequent attempts to cast doubt on the election results ever since January 6, when he was one of the House’s leading pro-insurrectionists.
“It’s pretty disgraceful, pretty embarrassing, and reflects poorly on them and their party,” said Representative Summer Lee, a Pittsburgh Democrat, who has been outspoken about Jordan’s history of support for antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories. She reminded reporters that the Judiciary Committee, which Jordan chairs, tweeted support for Kanye West—a tweet that remained online long after the controversial artist declared “death con 3 to Jewish people.”
Representative Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, echoed Lee’s concern about Jordan’s history of touting the “great replacement theory.” “That, and his close association with white nationalist organizations, plus the permanent ban on abortions … the list goes on and on,” said Grijalva, who lamented how few Republicans have been willing to push back against Jordan’s candidacy. “Jordan is a nightmare,” added Grijalva.
“I’m just so surprised that 200 Republicans would be supporting someone who’s so extreme and so involved in supporting an insurrection,” said Representative Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, on Tuesday. “It’s just so symptomatic of how corroded the Republican Party, especially within this Congress, has become.”
Representative Emilia Sykes, a first-term congresswoman from Ohio (Jordan’s home state), expressed concern for the constituents looking to Congress for help. “I’m mostly frustrated for the American people who are expecting us to be working on their behalf, when we’re not,” she said. “It’s just so unfortunate to watch this chamber not live up to what it should be.”
Wednesday’s floor vote was the seventeenth vote for House speaker during the current Congress, which began with an embarrassing 15-vote series to elect Kevin McCarthy to the gavel, only to see him vacated nine months later.
Florida Representative Maxwell Frost, another first-term Democratic congressman, echoed Sykes. “They’re not fit to govern,” he said of the House GOP. “I have legislation that we’re really excited to get out there, that we’ve had to put on hold. Plus we need to get these appropriations bills passed to bring the money back home.”
Frost, too, took issue with the fact that his GOP colleagues seek to elevate an election denier for speaker. “The best they’ve got is probably the member most associated with the January 6 insurrection. That’s a huge problem,” he said.
Representative Robert Garcia echoed Frost. “He literally didn’t believe the legitimacy of the last election, so he’s totally unqualified to be speaker,” said the first-term congressman from Long Beach.
Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat now in his eighth term, was the lonely voice of optimism among the 15 members of the minority party interviewed for this story. “I still think once they purge themselves of this, it makes space for a consensus candidate to emerge for speaker. Then we’ll get on with the business of the House. I think that could happen fairly soon if they get their act together,” he said.
Jeffries has floated House Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, as someone Democrats respect and can potentially work with on a bipartisan basis. “The fact is, there is a working majority of over 300 members of this Congress who voted on things like aid for Ukraine, a continuing resolution to fund the government, and to raise the debt ceiling,” Connolly said. “All of those were 300-plus votes. So there’s a clear bipartisan majority. But in order to achieve that, Republicans have got to work with Democrats. If not, then you’re gonna get the chaos we’re seeing now.”
Maybe, having tried and failed repeatedly at chaos, the GOP will pull back from the brink. But funny thing—they keep trying chaos and keep failing instead.