Revenge of the squishes

Revenge of the squishes

By any measure, House Republican centrists are an endangered species.

As the GOP has drifted steadily right, their ranks have steadily thinned and their crucial role in making Congress work has become increasingly threatened. Being called a “moderate” these days isn’t even really ideological — it’s about keeping your head down, building the relationships and making the compromises that have kept American democracy on track for 247 years.

For that flexibility — and their willingness to fall in line behind party leaders — they’ve earned themselves a sneering nickname: “Squishes.”

So when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), godfather of the conservative hard-liners, won the Republican nomination to be elected speaker last week, you’d be forgiven for expecting them to, you know, squish once again.

As one GOP aide put it to NBC, “Either he gets it or the moderates for the first time ever grow a spine.”

Turns out the moderates are vertebrates, after all.

Among the 20 Republicans who opposed Jordan’s bid for the gavel Tuesday were a few junior frontliners with little to lose, such as Reps. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.).

But they were backed up by a cadre of powerful House veterans — people like Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) and subcommittee “cardinals” Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who said no to Jordan after years of watching their jurisdiction over federal spending come under attack by the hard right.

“The adults were fed up,” said one top aide to a member opposing Jordan. “They knew they had to act now or never.”

The unlikely centrist rebellion has now backed Jordan into a corner. His allies expected a conservative media pressure campaign to subdue any resistance. Instead it backfired, hardening the opposition.

Now, for his candidacy to remain viable, he will need to show significant progress Wednesday when the House reconvenes for the second ballot at 11 a.m.

That his campaign for the gavel has stretched to a second day on the floor is itself a setback. Jordan allies expected a handful of protest votes, perhaps enough to force a second ballot. But they didn’t count on 20 of them.

Jordan can count on at least one vote flipping his way: Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said Tuesday he’d come home to the nominee after registering his displeasure with the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, a close California ally.

But other holdouts seem even more dug in after receiving hundreds of calls and messages from Jordan supporters. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) shared text messages that his wife had received, trying to pressure him into backing Jordan. They believe they can actually grow their numbers in subsequent ballots as it becomes clear Jordan has no path forward.

Still, one Jordan ally said to settle in. Jordan isn’t known for backing down from a fight, and he’s not about to start now, the person predicted. “It took McCarthy 15 ballots; we’re only at one,” this person said. “This might be a waiting game.”

ther senior Republicans don’t think Jordan has that much time. McCarthy spent years building goodwill with his colleagues by raising money for their campaigns and traveling extensively to their districts. That bought him patience back in January, giving him time and space to negotiate with his own holdouts.

Jordan hasn’t earned that level of goodwill. And some senior Republicans predict that after flailing for another round or two, he’ll see a mass jailbreak as members get antsy and want move on. Team Jordan suggested they know as much by postponing the second vote, which had initially been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

What’s happened since the first vote, however, hasn’t seemed to help his case. In fact, his camp’s apparent decision to leak details of a tense post-vote meeting with Majority Leader Steve Scalise only further inflamed Scalise loyalists who feel as though Jordan sandbagged Scalise’s own speaker bid. (Scalise, for his part, denied the allegation that he refused to give a floor speech nominating Jordan.)

Jordan’s peace offering, an online post calling on Republicans to “stop attacking each other and come together,” came several hours later.

It did little to take the edge off the House GOP. Amid the drama Tuesday, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) announced she is retiring to spend more time with her family — a decision that surely left her colleagues thinking: After the past few weeks, who can blame her?

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Author: By Rachael Bade