On the eve of Kevin McCarthy’s long-awaited defeat of his nemesis, Rep. Jim Jordan, President Donald Trump is jumping into the fray to play peacemaker.
Trump has privately urged the House majority leader to strike a deal with the conservative Freedom Caucus founder, who is challenging McCarthy for the minority leader post next Congress, multiple lawmakers and aides said. It remains unclear what exactly the deal would entail.
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The discussions between the president and McCarthy about Jordan, which took place last week, set off a round of speculation among lawmakers inside the Capitol that Trump may try to push Jordan to become the top Republican lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee, a panel expected to launch an array of Democratic investigations against the president — and possibly even an impeachment probe.
“Jim Jordan will be the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee,” top Trump ally Cory Lewandowski predicted Tuesday evening on MSNBC’s Hardball.
Jordan wants that position, according to GOP lawmakers and aides. And Trump thinks Jordan would be a ferocious defender.
But McCarthy does not have authority to unilaterally appoint a lawmaker to any ranking member position. Rather, the decision is up to the Republican Steering Committee, a collection of members who do not like Jordan and may not take their cues from the White House.
Trump’s request puts McCarthy in a bind as he prepares to succeed Paul Ryan atop the GOP conference, which was crushed by Democrats on Election Day. Jordan derailed McCarthy’s 2015 speakership bid and has been running against the California Republican to lead the House GOP for months. Jordan accused McCarthy, along with other GOP leaders, of losing the majority for Republicans.
Jordan is backed by an array of conservative special interest groups who have long been a thorn in leadership’s side, and he also has the ear of the president. But Jordan has little chance of winning the minority leader race.
The California Republican does not need to strike a deal with Jordan to win the position. McCarthy says he has the votes. And in fact, his allies believe McCarthy benefits if he can show the president that he can defeat Jordan in what’s effectively a popularity contest.
The vote for minority leader is set for Wednesday afternoon.
Jordan and McCarthy both declined to comment for this story. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The rare and unexpected presidential foray into internal House politics could scramble what, until now, had been a fairly low-key fight over the position. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is the leading contender to become the ranking Republican on Judiciary — though Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), a veteran of the Clinton impeachment battle, is also running.
Indeed, the request could put McCarthy in a sensitive situation with some of his members. McCarthy is close with Collins, who is favored for the position and well-liked among his colleagues. Collins has been campaigning for the post for months, flying around the country to help GOP colleagues win re-election, crafting bipartisan bills to showcase his legislative chops — including a prison reform bill that is important to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — and wooing House leaders.
But Jordan has won the president’s admiration in no small part because he’s good on TV and is a fierce advocate of the president. Jordan appears regularly on Fox News and other networks to push the pro-Trump line. And the President has gushed that he’s his “warrior” — often to the annoyance of other House Republicans.
Some Republicans have suggested there is a way to make all parties happy. Jordan is next in line on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where Democrats are also readying a series of investigations into Trump and his administration. Jordan, who wanted the position in previous years, could be tapped to be the top GOP member on the committee, the Republicans say.
But it’s possible Jordan loses out being the ranking Republican on either committee given his unpopularity in the GOP conference for tactics many considered divisive. Jordan espouses a hardline conservative agenda at every opportunity, has pushed for shutdowns and has derailed some of his colleagues’ bipartisan legislative priorities in the name of ideological purity.
He may need McCarthy’s or Trump’s backing to get either job. McCarthy, as minority leader, has four votes on the Steering Committee.
It’s an awkward situation for Trump as well as for McCarthy. Trump clearly likes both men, calling McCarthy to talk shop regularly while praising Jordan as well. The two House Republicans, however, have long butted heads.
The Judiciary Committee is likely to be the forum for the most high-profile investigations Trump will face in the Democratic Congress next year. The panel has a wide-ranging portfolio, and Democrats have signaled they’ll use it to look at Trump’s potential business conflicts of interest, his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, allegations that Trump may have obstructed an investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia and other sensitive matters.
The panel also has jurisdiction over the impeachment process, which could become a factor if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation delivers allegations of misconduct. Dozens of Democrats already voted to advance an impeachment debate late last year, although they were in the minority and the vote was guaranteed to fail.
During the final days of the campaign, Trump warned that a Democratic House would try to impeach him and used it as a rallying cry to his supporters. While Democrats have downplayed the possibility of impeachment, Trump’s request underscores his intense focus on who will be leading the fight against Democratic investigations into his presidency.
Jordan, for his part, has slammed the long-running Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing leaders of the FBI and Justice Department of anti-Trump bias that he said fueled their probe.
Democrats say Jordan and his supporters are trying to shield Trump from a legitimate investigation, in part by eroding public confidence in law enforcement institutions. Trump has fanned the controversy, often taking to Twitter to pan the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” against him.
The Judiciary committee’s portfolio will include far more than investigations. Some of Trump’s signature policy issues — including immigration — are overseen by the committee. Gun control legislation is also on the committee’s docket, along with prison and sentencing issues, all of which Trump has weighed in on during his first two years in office.