GOP Congressman: Paul Ryan has problems

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) says he is concerned about Paul Ryan following the House Speaker's support of a massive spending bill.

Posted: Feb 12, 2018 11:14 PM
Updated: Feb 12, 2018 11:14 PM

Jim Jordan isn't happy with Paul Ryan.

The Ohio conservative made that clear during an interview on "Fox News Sunday" when asked about the speaker of the House.

"Do I think the speaker has problems?" Jordan said. "Yes I do, particularly now as we head into this big immigration debate."

When "FNS" host Chris Wallace asked whether it was time for the party to move on from Ryan as speaker, Jordan responded:

"We'll have that debate at the appropriate time. You asked me if there's concerns with the speaker. I think there are big concerns because he just presided over one of the biggest spending increases in the history of the country at a time when we were elected to do just the opposite."

So. That happened.

Conservative unrest with Republican leadership is not exactly a new storyline. Just ask the man Ryan replaced as speaker -- John Boehner decided to call it quits after weathering a series of disappointing legislative defeats engineered by Jordan and his fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Know what else isn't new? Conservatives agitating for a leadership change with absolutely no next step or thought-out strategy.

The Boehner resignation is instructive.

When Boehner walked away -- or announced his plan to walk away in September 2015 -- it very quickly became clear that the same forces that forced his hand had absolutely no plan to replace him.

Boehner's second in command -- California Rep. Kevin McCarthy -- made an aborted attempt to claim the top job but it quickly became clear that conservatives wouldn't be for him and he pulled out of the race before it even started.

Thus began the long, dark tea-time of the Republican soul. The three weeks from the October 8 McCarthy failure to the October 29 election of Ryan as speaker made very clear that while the House Freedom Caucus was a powerful blockade to Republican leadership, it simply lacked the cohesion -- and raw numbers -- to be the governing wing of the party. There's nothing to indicate that things have changed since 2015.

Jordan, then Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Rep. Daniel Webster (Fla.), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and lots and lots of other conservatives either floated their own names or watched as their names were floated in the interregnum.

And almost as soon as their names emerged, it became clear that they simply didn't have the votes to come even close to winning a majority of the majority.

Which is when the recruitment of Ryan began. The Wisconsin Republican had initially said "no" to overtures that he step into the leadership void. But as the days dragged on and it became clear that no one else in the House Republican conference could get anywhere near enough support, Ryan reconsidered. Once he changed his mind, he won easily.

Here's the lesson to take from that bit of history: The House Freedom Caucus had zero plan other than getting rid of Boehner.

Here's their plan, in fact:

Step 1: Get rid of person we don't like

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: Permanent conservative governance

It, um, didn't work out that way in 2015. And it won't work that way in 2018, or 2019 or 2020 either.

It's possible that Jordan could capitalize on unrest within the Republican ranks centered on the massive growth of the deficit under GOP leadership to either beat Ryan or make his life much more uncomfortable.

But there is simply no one waiting in the wings that has even close to the profile of Ryan. McCarthy, the second-ranking House Republican, already lost once. Majority Whip Steve Scalise continues the long recovery from being shot at a baseball practice and would have a hard time amassing the necessary support.

Chaffetz resigned to become a cable TV personality. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is regarded highly by lots of conservatives, is retiring this fall. Jordan could have support within his clique but would struggle mightily outside of it. Ditto Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.), the current chair of the House Freedom Caucus. The only person who, I think, could make a semi-cogent argument to be Speaker is North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry. But he seems to be biding his time and seems to have zero interest in an attempted coup on Ryan.

The point here is that Jordan's carping is sound and fury, signifying not much. If congressional Republicans managed to throw Ryan out, it would be cutting off their noses despite their faces. They may not love everything he does -- and the deficit embiggening is clearly antithetical to the principles Ryan rose to national prominence on nearly a decade ago -- but there is simply no one even close to Ryan's stature operating in the House conference right now.

And that very much includes Jim Jordan.

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