In October 2015, Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan helped block Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker of the House. Three years later, Jordan unsuccessfully challenged McCarthy for minority leader following the Democratic takeover of the House.
Yet now, when McCarthy needs a Republican attack dog for a tough partisan assignment, his “go-to guy” is Jordan.
McCarthy added Jordan to the House Intelligence Committee in November as that panel became ground zero for the Trump impeachment effort. Jordan became one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken defenders during that ordeal. In addition, Jordan currently serves as the top Republican on both the Judiciary and the Oversight and Reform committees, two powerful posts he got only through McCarthy’s support.
And on Thursday, McCarthy named Jordan as a one of five Republicans on a select committee chaired by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to help oversee distribution of coronavirus relief funds.
Like McCarthy, Jordan is also a frequent visitor to the Oval Office, or a recipient of presidential phone calls. And Jordan’s own combative style plays heavily into one of Trump’s key attributes — always be on the attack, never defend.
The alliance with McCarthy comes as the Ohio lawmaker’s profile rises in the Trump era, morphing from a Freedom Caucus bomb thrower to a successful fundraiser, mentor to younger lawmakers and presidential pal.
“I believe the select panel is ‘Impeachment Phase 2’ and, if so, send your pit bull for the event,” said Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), a member of GOP leadership. “I am sure it makes the folks at White House more satisfied.”
McCarthy and GOP leaders strongly opposed the creation of the Clyburn select committee, seeing it as Democrats’ attempts to launch “Impeachment 2.0” against Trump over his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who also isn’t afraid of mixing it up with Democrats, will serve as ranking member on the panel.
Some Republicans had urged McCarthy to boycott the panel, arguing it would just validate the Democratic-led effort. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named some of her own fiercest partisans to the Clyburn panel as well, including Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — whom Trump has slammed as “Crazy Maxine Waters” — and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), an outspoken advocate for Trump’s impeachment.
But ultimately, GOP leadership decided it was better to have a seat at the table so they could mount a vigorous defense of Trump's response to the pandemic. The select panel is expected to be at the center of congressional oversight action in the coming months.
Jordan has taken a lead role in describing the coronavirus Clyburn panel as a politicized effort to tar Trump heading into the last six months of his reelection campaign. That prompted some Democrats to retort about Jordan’s own history as a member of the Benghazi select committee, which dogged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — and that McCarthy once indicated had an overtly political purpose.
"We fear this Select Committee is nothing more than the Speaker’s politicization of a crisis in a last-ditch attempt to attack the President after her impeachment sham and other witch hunts failed," Jordan said in a statement. "The Oversight Committee and the other relevant committees are more than equipped to ensure accountability for taxpayers. Instead of relying on them, Speaker Pelosi put Joe Biden’s key House advocate in charge of a powerful new panel that is more like an arm of the DNC than the U.S. Congress.”
To Democrats, Jordan is seen as one of the more zealous Trump apologists who will seemingly explain away any behavior by the president, no matter how outrageous.
"Donald Trump had a no more ferocious partisan defender than Jim Jordan throughout the impeachment proceedings in the House," said Raskin, who also tangled publicly with Jordan recently over the issue of whether members should wear face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. "He's a man of real talent but where does the Constitution fit in, where does the public interest fit in? It's not clear to me."
"You shouldn't make a career out of defending people who abuse their power," Raskin added.
But for many Republicans, Jordan is a battle-tested warrior who knows how to push an aggressive message. He played a starring role in the House’s impeachment battle last year as a temporary member of the Intelligence Committee — a move that was encouraged by Trump, but enabled by McCarthy.
Earlier this year, GOP lawmakers — with McCarthy’s blessing — elected Jordan to serve as ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, hoping to put Trump’s fiercest defender on the front lines of combating Democratic oversight efforts.
Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), meanwhile, was tapped to be the ranking member on Oversight. When Meadows resigned from Congress to become Trump’s chief of staff in March, Jordan took back the reins on Oversight. And with the coronavirus pandemic keeping lawmakers away from the Capitol, there are no immediate plans to replace Jordan, leaving him as the top Republican on two key panels.
Jordan has earned leadership’s trust and is seen as a team player, a dramatic reversal from how he was seen just a short time ago. The Ohio Republican — first elected to Congress in 2006 — was a thorn in the side of GOP leadership when they were in the majority.
Jordan and Meadows used the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus to go after McCarthy and other party leaders, often wrecking top Republicans’ plans on spending bills or other measures. After Trump was elected, the pair would go over leadership’s head to pitch their plans directly to the president, playing to his most antagonistic instincts on high-profile issues. Jordan and Meadows helped push Trump to engage in the disastrous 2018 government shutdown, for instance, despite heavy opposition from McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McCarthy’s newfound alliance with Jordan is sure to earn him plaudits with conservatives down the road, support the California Republican may need if the GOP doesn’t win back the House in November.
This is “all about internal Republican politics,” griped one GOP lawmaker. “Appease the hard right at all costs.”
Yet Republicans repeatedly described Jordan's ability to help boost the profile of younger members as one reason he's fostered fierce loyalty among his colleagues. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said Jordan has made a concerted effort to mentor junior lawmakers including himself, as well as Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Kelly Armstrong of New Dakota to become more effective in high profile hearings. Rep. Jamie Comer (R-Ky.) said Jordan allows less senior members to take starring roles in committee hearings that feature issues they care about and know well.
Another huge plus for Jordan is that his growing national profile as a Trump ally has turned him into a fundraising power house. Jordan has $2.6 million cash on hand and has fundraised for dozens of his GOP colleagues.
Multiple lawmakers also credited McCarthy with being willing to set aside his adversarial relationship with Jordan for the good of the Republican Conference.
"It says a lot about McCarthy too that he's secure enough to use the guy who ran against him for speaker. They both get along great now," Comer said. "They're stronger working together than fighting each other.”
Comer recalled Jordan allying with McCarthy a few weeks ago to pass a bipartisan bill updating federal surveillance laws that had been panned by the Freedom Caucus. Comer said Jordan stood up against his longtime allies to help make the case for the bill.
“Jim is an excellent investigator and has an excellent team,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a conservative hard-liner who serves on the Judiciary panel and is the new chief of the Freedom Caucus. “He is dogged in his pursuit for truth, and so I think he’s a perfect choice.”
“Jim is our most talented member, and Jim is our hardest working member. Kevin is our most likable member. Together, they've made a great team,” added Gaetz.
“Both [McCarthy and Jordan] recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and both have realized that they work together as a team,” he said. “I don't think that realization would have occurred in the norms of Washington absent the crucible of impeachment.”