Tensions boiled over inside a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Thursday, the latest sign of chaos and division as they struggle to elect a new speaker following Kevin McCarthy’s historic ouster.
Rep. Jim Jordan, lacking the votes to become speaker, is poised to pivot strategy by backing a plan to expand the power of the interim speaker for the rest of the year, a move that is already triggering a backlash from some members of his party.
The GOP conference meeting turned heated, multiple sources told CNN, with some members railing against Jordan and one swearing at GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the rebellion against McCarthy.
At one point, Gaetz was told to sit down by McCarthy and refused to sit down, then Rep. Mike Bost “got all emotional and ugly and was cussing him” and “telling him it’s all his fault,” one member said.
Other Republicans, including some who supported Jordan, railed against him for backing the resolution to expand the powers of the interim speaker and called him self-serving. Some members encouraged him to drop out of the race.
There was also an emotional and heated discussion over the death threats some Jordan holdouts are facing.
As he exited the meeting, GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher said he was “going to the chapel to pray the rosary.”
Looking deflated, he added that “temperatures are really high in there.”
Multiple GOP members coming out of the closed-door meeting said that Jordan is now backing a resolution to expand the powers of interim Speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican. The resolution, being pushed by some in the conference, would empower McHenry until January or until a new speaker is elected.
The idea, according to a Jordan ally, is to give Jordan more time to build support without the chaos of a speaker-less House. Jordan does not plan to drop out of the race and wants to remain the speaker designee, the source said.
But many Jordan opponents want him to drop out entirely and it’s unclear if empowering McHenry will win over his most ardent detractors.
The idea of empowering McHenry has also faced broad opposition from many Republicans – the move is controversial and would put the House even further into uncharted territory following McCarthy’s historic ouster.
Rep. Jim Banks called the resolution to empower McHenry a “giant betrayal” to Republican voters and the “biggest F-U” to GOP voters since a majority of House Republicans may vote against it.
Rep. Don Bacon told CNN that Jordan “needs to get out,” saying it would be a problem for him if Jordan doesn’t run for a third ballot but remains in the race as a speaker-designee.
“He needs to keep voting and then he needs to get out. He doesn’t have the votes, it’s going to get worse for him, so let’s not delay this,” he said.
Jordan won’t hold a third speaker vote on Thursday, sources told CNN, as he has struggled to flip holdouts and was at risk of bleeding more support.
Heading into the meeting, Jordan would not tell CNN’s Lauren Fox what he plans to do and said he wanted to talk to colleagues first.
The Ohio Republican, who has made a name for himself as a hardline conservative agitator, has so far vowed to stay in the race despite two failed votes for the gavel.
Multiple GOP sources told CNN that Jordan is bleeding votes and is poised to lose even more Republicans if he goes through with a third ballot. One GOP opponent says there are about 30 GOP no votes as of Thursday morning.
Tensions are rising among House Republicans as pressure grows to find a way to resolve the standoff. In a sign of growing opposition to his candidacy, Jordan fared worse in a second round of voting on Wednesday than he had in the first vote a day earlier.
Rep. Warren Davidson, a close ally of Jordan’s and fellow Ohio Republican, told reporters Thursday morning that the GOP conference needs more time to heal following the historic ousting of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy more than two weeks ago. At the time, eight House Republicans – as well as the entirety of the present and voting Democratic caucus – were able to force out McCarthy in a historic move, known as the motion to vacate the chair.
“So it’s all these things about the past,” Davidson said. “It’s not actual objections to Jim Jordan being speaker. So I really do feel like we have to find a way to heal, and sometimes it takes time to heal.”
But some of Jordan’s opponents say his supporters are doing little to tamp down tensions and in some cases making it worse. After Wednesday’s failed speaker vote, a number of Republicans who oppose Jordan expressed outrage over what they described as a pressure campaign against them by Jordan allies – and made clear they won’t be swayed. Several Republicans who opposed Jordan said they are experiencing angry calls, menacing messages and even death threats since casting their votes. Jordan on Wednesday condemned the death threats, saying “it’s just wrong.”
The House remains effectively frozen as Republicans have failed to coalesce around a viable alternative to Kevin McCarthy after the former speaker was ousted in a historic vote by a group of conservative hardliners.
Now, more moderate and mainstream Republicans are the ones digging in, with some concerned over the prospect of a conservative firebrand like Jordan as speaker and others angry over the role hardliners played in pushing out McCarthy and then opposing House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s bid for speaker.
As it increasingly looks uncertain that any candidate can secure the 217 votes to win the gavel, some Republicans have been pushing to expand the powers of interim Speaker McHenry. But such a move would be controversial and has divided Republicans.
During the first round of voting, 20 House Republicans voted against Jordan. In the second round, that number rose to 22. There were four new Republican votes against Jordan and two that flipped into his column.
Given the narrow House GOP majority, Jordan can only afford to lose a handful of votes and the high number of votes against him so far puts the gavel far out of reach for now.
If Jordan withdraws, then other candidates could jump into the race. Among those considering a run: Reps. Jodey Arrington of Texas, Jack Bergman of Michigan and Mike Johnson of Louisiana, according to GOP sources. But they would all struggle to get to 217 votes.
Jordan is a polarizing figure in the speaker’s fight. He is a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, and helped found the hardline House Freedom Caucus. As the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, he has also been a key figure in House GOP-led investigations.
His struggle to win the gavel has highlighted the limits of Trump’s influence in the speaker’s race after the former president endorsed Jordan.
It took McCarthy 15 rounds of voting in January to secure the gavel.
Some Republicans, however, have argued that given the unprecedented situation the House is now in without a speaker the current race should not go on for that long.
A fast-approaching government shutdown deadline and conflict unfolding abroad has also fueled calls for Republicans to bring an end to the leadership vacuum as soon as possible.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.