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Jim Jordan moves from leadership nemesis to key player in GOP agenda

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which will lead many of the investigations into the Biden administration this year.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Ohio Republican Jim Jordan chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which will lead many of the investigations into the Biden administration this year.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan will hold his first investigative hearing Wednesday on border security. His transformation from leadership antagonist to leadership ally positions the Ohio Republican as a central player in House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's agenda this year.

When Jordan arrived on Capitol Hill in 2007, he zeroed in on his quest to shrink the federal government as a member of the House Budget Committee. In one of his early floor speeches he stressed he was new to Washington, but said, "I've already learned the game is called spend at every opportunity."

Jordan's role focused on slashing spending and critiquing GOP leaders

His zeal to rein in federal spending helped him get elected in 2010 to be chair of the Republican Study Committee, a large group of fiscal conservatives. In that post he made it clear he saw himself as a check on his party.

"I like to tell folks we're the conservative conscience for Republicans here in the nation's Capitol. And our job is to make Republicans act like Republicans," Jordan said in an interview on C-SPAN in 2010.

He wasn't afraid to confront his own leaders. The GOP lawmaker helped found the House Freedom Caucus in 2015. That group targeted then-Speaker John Boehner — from his own home state — and their battles contributed to him stepping down later that year.

Boehner labeled Jordan a "political terrorist," criticizing him in an interview with CBS in 2021, saying, "I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart, never building anything, never putting anything together."

Jordan regularly tussled with GOP leaders as an outsider, but now he's got a seat at the leadership table for himself.

Eight years after opposing McCarthy's first bid for speaker after Boehner stepped down, Jordan nominated him on the House floor and lobbied reluctant hardliners who didn't think McCarthy was a true fiscal conservative, to back him.

Speaking on the House floor Jordan said, "I think Kevin McCarthy is the right guy to lead us. I really do. I wouldn't be standing up here giving this speech. I came in with Kevin. We came in the same time 16 years ago. We haven't always agreed on everything. But I like his fight. I like his tenacity."

After 15 ballots and more than four days, McCarthy was elected speaker on Jan. 7. He's given Jordan a huge platform as a key architect of the GOP probes of the Biden administration.

From Trump surrogate to lead investigator

Often seen in his signature rolled-up shirtsleeves and no suit jacket, Jordan had an aggressive posture at marquee hearings like the one on the IRS targeting political groups in 2014 and the2015 hearingquestioning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. But Jordan cemented his stature as a conservative surrogate following his role as one of President Donald Trump's fiercest defenders during his first impeachment in 2019.

At regular press conferences during the Senate trial Jordan argued Trump was being unfairly treated. "Democrats have never got over the fact that this new guy has never been in this town, never been in politics, this new guy came in here and is shaking this place up and that drives them crazy."

Former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, who served in the House with Jordan and was one of the founding members of the Freedom Caucus, said Jordan was a key ally when Mulvaney moved over to work as White House chief of staff for Trump.

"You never know when the light is going to shine on you and you have to be ready and I think Jim was. And Jim did a great job, I thought, on the impeachment. I talked to him regularly during that period, and he was always on the ball," Mulvaney told NPR.

He said Jordan's priority as Judiciary chair is more about leading probes than passing bills.

"I would look at Jim more as an investigator and somebody who's interested in transparency and accountability, than I would describe him as a legislator. I don't think Jim would be very happy on the Financial Services Committee. I don't think he'd be happy on appropriations. But the man is made to run the Judiciary Committee."

And Jordan already has a long list of inquiries — including border security, education policies during the pandemic and alleged bias by the FBI. He'll also lead a new subcommittee that will look into what the Ohio Republican calls "the weaponization" of the federal government.

Texas Republican Chip Roy, a member of that panel, says Jordan's the best person to lead that new effort. "I don't know anybody in town who is better prepared than Jim Jordan to go after the bureaucrats over in the executive branch and to bring a light to the weaponization of government against the American people. He'll do a great job of it," Roy told NPR recently.

With the backing of Trump, Republicans like Roy and Jordan allege there is an institutional bias against the GOP in some federal agencies.

Some House Republicans are already pressing for Jordan to move to impeach President Biden. For his part, the new Judiciary chair says that's up to the speaker and the GOP conference.

But Mulvaney warns impeachment has become a political tool and should be preserved for instances when there is solid evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. "I hope that the Republicans will go back to that standard if they end up impeaching Biden. It damn well better be for a really, really good reason."

California Democrat Ted Lieu sits on the Judiciary Committee and told NPR recently about the panel's new chairman, "I believe he has very extreme views. I also believe that he believes in those views so I respect that. Unlike Kevin McCarthy who I believe doesn't actually believe in the things he says."

Mulvaney says Jordan has credibility with the far right in the Republican Party, with conservative media outlets and now he's also enjoying more support from the center of the party. But he warns one problem Jordan may face is keeping his investigations focused. He told NPR some lawmakers may be more worried about getting on TV than getting to the truth.

"It's going to be a challenge, there's no question, because lawmakers have learned that being on the right committee can make them famous and they like that."

NPR's Claudia Grisales, Barbara Sprunt and Lexie Schapitl contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.