Representative Jim Jordan, a hardline Republican from Ohio, lost a second bid for speaker Wednesday after facing opposition from a group of mainstream GOP supporters who vowed to block the ultraconservative from the leadership post.
Mr. Jordan said he would continue to fight to secure the majority of votes he needs to become speaker, and spent much of Wednesday afternoon meeting with some of the holdouts. But after the second vote, it was clear there was no immediate end in sight to the gridlock that left the House leaderless and in turmoil after two weeks of Republican infighting.
House Republicans adjourned Wednesday night and were scheduled to reconvene at noon Thursday to find a way forward.
As the chaos continued, a group of Republicans and Democrats debated taking explicit steps to empower Representative Patrick T. McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina who was serving as speaker pro tempore, to lead legislative business in the House, which had been paralyzed for weeks. But Republicans were divided even on that, with some Jordan loyalists arguing it would set a damaging precedent.
Still, many lawmakers have become deeply troubled by the president-elect’s absence as wars rage in Israel and Ukraine and the government is within weeks of shutting down if Congress fails to reach a spending deal.
Allies of Mr. Jordan, a co-founder of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, initially hoped he would gain momentum on the second ballot. Instead, the number of Republicans who refused to support him increased by two on Wednesday. Mr. Jordan won 199 votes, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, won 212 votes. Four Republicans who voted for Mr. Jordan on the first ballot rose to oppose him, and two Republicans who voted against Mr. Jordan on the first ballot changed their votes to support him.
“We picked some up today, a couple left,” Mr Jordan said after the vote. “But they voted for me before, I think I can come back again.” He noted that former President Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the top job also stalled after about 20 of those who opposed him on multiple votes.
But several mainstream Republicans who voted against Mr. Jordan said they were irrevocably opposed to his candidacy and predicted that opposition to the Ohio Republican would only grow. Many of them said they were encouraged to hold their positions because of the pressure campaign Mr. Jordan’s allies launched on them over the weekend to try to get them to back down and support him. The tactic included posting the names and phone numbers of those being held on social media and in some cases placing robocalls in their districts.
“Someone who was advising him thought it was a good idea to try to light us up and embarrass us on the floor,” said New York Rep. Nick LaLota. “That tactic obviously didn’t work. He probably pulled some members into stronger ones.”
Mr Jordan and his allies have calculated that MPs who oppose him, almost entirely from the more mainstream wing of the party, will fall in line when forced to vote against him in the House, facing pressure from conservative voters and media figures. Those moderate lawmakers usually seek compromise, and the bet was that they would want to quickly patch up Republican divisions and move forward to get the House back to normal.
Instead, said Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of the holdouts, the strategy “backfired dramatically.”
Mr. Diaz-Balart added of Mr. Jordan’s journey to the speakership: “I think it’s getting harder for him every day.”
“If you give in to threats and intimidation and all that, you’re just going to be threatened and intimidated for the rest of your life,” said Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, who said he would continue to vote for Mr. McCarthy.
The vote underscored deep divisions within the House Republican conference, but also signaled how far the group has drifted to the right. Among the 199 Republicans who voted for Mr. Jordan were many mainstream Republicans, including a dozen from districts that President Biden won in 2020, all of whom were willing to give Mr. Jordan second in line for the presidency.
Those were votes to elevate a lawmaker who helped Mr. Trump overturn the 2020 election, who used his power in Congress to defend the former president and whose long record of opposing compromise led the previous Republican president to label him a “terrorist lawmaker.”
In the absence of a clear path forward, debate grew over whether to hold a vote to approve giving control to Mr. McHenry over the House floor until the deadlock can be broken, perhaps until January 3rd.
Mr. McHenry is acting as speaker pro tempore under rules passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that require the Speaker of the House to draw up a list of people to fill the seat if it becomes vacant. When Mr. McCarthy was ousted by a right-wing insurgency two weeks ago, the world learned that Mr. McHenry first name on his list.
Many House aides believe that the power of Mr. McHenry is strictly limited to presiding over the election of a new president, as he did this week. But because this situation has not arisen before, some congressional scholars argue that the limits of the acting speaker’s power depend largely on what the majority of members are willing to authorize.
Some Republicans, especially the staunchest supporters of Mr. Jordan, resisted such a move because it would reduce momentum for the party to unify behind him — or any other Republican. They argued that the maneuver would set a harmful precedent.
“I am violently opposed to any attempt to do this in the House of Representatives,” said Representative Chip Roy, R-Texas, calling the idea “directly unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, many Republicans openly worried that their deep internal divisions were hanging a political albatross around the party’s neck ahead of the 2024 election.
“I just want to get us to an option where we can restart this place,” said Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas, one of those holding out against Mr. Jordan. “I think we need to rebrand ourselves and get back to running this government.”
He contributed to the reporting Kayla Guo, Luke Broadwater, Annie Carney, Robert Jimison and Carl Hulse.