Oct 18, 2023

The latest on the House Speaker race.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Image: Gage Skidmore 
Rep. Jim Jordan. Image: Gage Skidmore

Plus, why does Israel control electricity in Gaza?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

The latest on the House Speaker race, plus a reader question about Israel and Gaza.

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Quick hits.

  1. An unknown number of people were reportedly killed after an explosion at a hospital in Gaza where civilians were taking shelter. Initial reports from the Palestinian Health Ministry stated that 500 were dead and blamed an Israeli strike. Israel said a failed launch from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was responsible. Neither assertion, nor the number of people killed, could be verified, and images shared Wednesday morning seem to indicate the damage was less serious than initially reported. Since the attack that killed more than 1,400 in Israel, more than 3,000 people have now been killed in Gaza, and another 61 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. (The blast)
  2. Separately, the White House has been discussing using military force against Hezbollah, a militant group in Lebanon, if it continues to attack Israel on the northern border. President Biden is in Tel Aviv today. (The visit)
  3. The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Wednesday morning for Jack Lew, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel. (The hearing)
  4. India’s Supreme Court declined to recognize same-sex marriage, passing the responsibility back to parliament. (The ruling
  5. A new Marist poll found that in a presidential race with former President Donald Trump, President Biden would benefit from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. running as an independent. (The poll)

New video.

A few weeks ago, an email landed in my inbox that caught my eye. It was from a Tangle reader — a former church leader — who had experienced conversion therapy and was now fighting against it. His story was fascinating, and in many ways contained all the nuance and complications we try to flesh out here in Tangle. So we turned on the mics (and cameras) for a conversation, which turned into the interview below.

Today's topic.

Jim Jordan. The Ohio Republican failed to win the requisite votes to become Speaker on Tuesday, leaving his future in doubt and the House of Representatives in a state of paralysis. Jordan’s nomination for House Speaker began after a handful of Republicans ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) earlier this month, citing broken promises on spending and for working with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down. 

Jordan's path to becoming frontrunner for House Speaker has been winding. Initially, he said he wasn't interested in the job. Once he threw his hat in the ring, his competition — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) — was widely considered the favorite. When it became clear Scalise couldn't win the requisite 217 votes, he dropped out, and Jordan took his place as McCarthy’s most likely successor. Jordan earned 200 votes in the first round of voting on Tuesday, with 20 Republicans voting for someone else. Another floor vote is occurring simultaneously with the publication of this newsletter.

Many moderate Republicans have objected to a Jordan speakership, in part because of the electoral implications. Jordan is a divisive figure among Republicans and also strongly disliked by many Democrats and independents. Democrats are already producing ads about how Jordan voted to decertify Pennsylvania and Arizona's 2020 election results. He is also staunchly anti-abortion, supports cuts to welfare, and has promised to reduce education funding, all issues Democrats think they can use in campaigns against Republicans running in purple districts.

At the same time, Jordan is beloved by the Republican base — including former President Donald Trump, who endorsed him. Many Republicans have cheered on his work as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, where his sharp questioning of witnesses has often scored political points for the right. He's also received a nearly unanimous backing from the House Freedom Caucus, which was responsible for helping oust McCarthy. Major players in conservative media are behind him, too, including Fox News host Sean Hannity, who reportedly orchestrated a pressure campaign on members of Congress to try to help Jordan win the Speaker's race.

However, with Jordan’s path uncertain, some Republicans are now considering throwing their support behind the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who would need Democratic support to be fully empowered in the role. 

Today, we’re going to take a look at some views from the right and left about Jordan’s rise and the latest on the race, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is split on the best path forward, but many resent the position the GOP is in and blame the party’s far right for its predicament. 
  • Some say Republicans should elevate Patrick McHenry to acting Speaker to allow some House business to proceed. 
  • Others argue Jordan is a fighter for conservative causes and has earned the Speakership. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said “nobody for Speaker of the House.”

“After two weeks of House paralysis, it’s no clearer who can pull Republicans back together,” the board wrote. If Jordan continues to fall short, “perhaps the solution, for now, is to empower acting Speaker Patrick McHenry… With each turn of the screw, the eight Republicans who deposed Mr. McCarthy look more foolish all the time. They didn’t have a plan for what to do next. They didn’t have an alternative candidate for Speaker. What kind of an idiot mutineer takes over the man-of-war, tosses the captain overboard, and then spends two weeks pulling ropes at random, hoping like hell that the thing will somehow drift ashore before the supplies run out?”

“The people’s House always includes some unserious characters, but now it has serious work to do. One option is to pull the Patrick McHenry emergency lever, which is to say, temporarily expand the Speaker Pro Tempore’s remit to cover a limited agenda. Mr. McHenry doesn’t seem to want the job, and at this point what sane person would? But he’s well respected, and he could be convinced to do it for the good of the country.”

In The Hill, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) wrote that Jordan is “the statesman we need at this moment.” 

“Fundamentally, most Americans want their elected officials to work together to do what’s right for our country. They expect their leaders to have courage of conviction but have also grown weary of the grandstanding and petty bickering that too often characterizes contemporary politics. They want results,” Bilirakis said. Jordan has “a proven track record of securing results. He understands that progress is only possible when we are willing to cooperate with one another and prioritize the needs of our constituents, which is why I enthusiastically support his candidacy for House Speaker.

“Jordan has been tenacious in his quest to ensure a government that is transparent and accountable. He has worked to root out corruption in federal agencies, including the IRS, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. His efforts led to the passage of legislation that would defund the hiring of 87,000 IRS agents — a Biden administration policy that the majority of Americans deplored. He has worked to empower parents and ensure they have a strong voice in their children’s education in the face of a weaponized Department of Justice… Now is the time for a such a warrior.”

In National Review, Noah Rothman said Jordan and “the MAGA wing [are] weaponizing party loyalty against the loyal.”

“Jordan and his allies have made explicit what was previously only implied, though all but universally recognized, as the MAGA Right’s biggest tactical advantage over the Republican Party’s more conventional conservatives. Those Republicans who have little or no use for the party as an institution are weaponizing the loyalty to it among those who do,” Rothman wrote. “MAGA types like Representative Anna Paulina Luna and Matt Gaetz are throwing decorum overboard by singling out their colleagues for condemnation in social media and summoning a mob to reinforce the implied conclusion that this leadership election is a career-defining vote.”

“This tactic will not put grievances within the Republican coalition to rest. It will sow the seeds of lasting resentments, particularly among the Republican lawmakers whose names you don’t know because they reliably put the interest of the party and the country above promoting their personal brands,” Rothman added. “This can no longer be a deliberative process because Jordan’s allies are demanding that the GOP dispense with deliberation in favor of a coronation… the bonds of party unity are ever more quickly fraying as the nihilism of the Right’s loudest voices becomes ever harder to stomach. Those bonds will not hold forever.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is unified in their opposition to Jordan and his potential Speakership.
  • Some think it would be more appropriate to expel Jordan from the House than make him Speaker. 
  • Others say Jordan is trying to emulate Trump’s aggressive style but is really just a wannabe strongman. 

In the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus said Speaker Jordan “would be a colossal mistake.”

“For the sake of the country — and, Republicans, for the sake of your party — let us hope that Jordan’s bid for the speakership fails in future votes as it did on Monday and Tuesday. Because if Jordan becomes the 56th speaker, he would be a bomb-thrower entrusted with dangerous new powers and, while this carries more symbolic than practical significance, second in line for the presidency. His speakership would commence at a moment when the need for bipartisan cooperation — on funding the government, on dealing with international crises in Israel and Ukraine — has rarely been greater and when the capacity to achieve it rarely more elusive.

“To this fraught, even dangerous, moment, Jordan would bring ... Jordan. There is hardly a profile of him that does not use the word ‘firebrand.’ His skill is in shutting things down, not making them work. His legislative record is thin to the point of indiscernible; he hasn’t passed a single bill,” Marcus wrote. “It is possible, I suppose, that a Speaker Jordan would turn out to be more accommodating, more practical than his 16 years in the House would suggest… Put me down as skeptical.”

In MSNBC, Hayes Brown argued Jordan “should be expelled from the House, not made speaker.”

“Jordan is an anti-establishment firebrand, one who should have been expelled from the House for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” Brown said. “That we’re even considering Jordan as a serious option doesn’t seem real. After all, this is the same Jordan whom former Speaker John Boehner, himself an Ohio Republican, described as a ‘legislative terrorist.’ The same Jordan who has spent this Congress chairing the failed ‘weaponization of the federal government’ subcommittee and failing to make the case that the FBI is persecuting conservatives. The same Jordan who was tapped to join the House Intelligence Committee during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment to act as a pit bull and attack the investigation however he could.

“And that’s before we get to the most egregious of Jordan’s sins: his support for Trump’s attempted reversal of the 2020 election. Jordan was one of a key group of lawmakers Trump and his advisers were in contact with in the weeks after Election Day. He was one of the loudest voices spreading Trump’s lies of election fraud and promoting the ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative at rallies and on social media,” Brown wrote. “For him to become speaker would be rewarding his support of authoritarian tyranny.”

In the New York Times, Michelle Cottle called Jordan “a lousy strongman.”

“The Republican conference is failing as a democratic entity. A healthy democracy needs its participants to accept a basic will-of-the-majority model. Fringe factions have rights, but they do not run the show. For years, the Republican Party has been shifting toward an anti-majoritarian, burn-down-the-system ethos. Time after time, the preferences and well-being of the many are abandoned in pursuit of the desires of the extremist few,” Cottle said. “Mr. Jordan clearly fancies himself more of a Trumpian strongman. He has never been a leader or a serious legislator but is, rather, a career pugilist who seems developmentally stuck in his glory days as a high school and college wrestler.”

Jordan’s “leverage and influence, like so many hard-liners’, largely derive from being a creature of Mr. Trump. Mr. Jordan may consider himself a powerful figure. In reality, he is just another Trumpian lap dog, albeit an especially currish one,” Cottle wrote. “Generally speaking, toadies don’t make for great strongmen. Small wonder that the House’s Republican leaders in recent years have been so weak and forgettable.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I'm not sure whether Jordan will ever find the votes, but if he does, it would hurt Democrats.
  • Empowering interim speaker McHenry is looking more and more likely.
  • There was no real plan for what to do post-McCarthy, and we're now facing that reality.

I want to revisit a few things I said when Kevin McCarthy was ousted a few weeks ago which seem particularly relevant now:

  1. “Democrats really might regret not saving McCarthy! He is duplicitous and unreliable and seemed held hostage. But he was also, in many ways, predictable... Now Democrats may end up with someone more extreme and more captured by the right flank. It is very possible they end up in a worse position to advance their agenda.”
  2. “This entire drama is something politicos and journalists like me could obsess over and talk about all day, but it probably won't impact your average American at all... It's quite possible (unless this leads to another government shutdown) that none of this impacts 99% of you in any tangible way. So there's that.”
  3. “Donald Trump is the de facto leader of the Republican Party, and his political instincts (as they pertain to the party’s base) are typically better than most career politicians’. For whatever it's worth, this is how he reacted to [McCarthy’s ouster]: ‘Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves? Why aren't they fighting the Radical Left Democrats who are destroying our Country?’”
  4. “You know who is elated right now? Joe Biden. Approval ratings in the mud. Economic sentiment is terrible. Stories about him being too old in every news outlet. And now... this. More evidence he can use to say ‘Republicans aren't a serious party and they are incapable of governing.’”

How have these points held up?

Well, Democrats would definitely miss McCarthy if they end up with Jordan, who is someone much less willing to negotiate and much further away from them on the issues that matter. If we do get a Speaker Jordan, that part will have been right.

And if Jordan does become Speaker, it may actually be more relevant to you than I initially expected. He isn't a McCarthy clone, which is what I expected out of whoever rose to the gavel. A Jordan speakership will actually change what kind of stuff gets done (or not) in Congress. I could see a world where he reduces or delays funding for the IRS, or guts the Department of Education. That wasn’t really in the cards with McCarthy. That part I may have gotten wrong.

Donald Trump's instincts were right, or at least self-fulfilling: He endorsed Jordan, and for a moment Jordan looked most likely to become speaker. Now, not so much. So that part is still very much up in the air.

And, finally, all of this is still great for Joe Biden. Other than what the House is able to accomplish, that part may be the most important issue heading into 2024. Jordan really is a nightmare scenario for moderate Republicans during election season. There is a reason Democratic operatives are salivating, which is that they'll probably have a hard time deciding where to hit him from just because there will be so many options.

At a time when abortion is a major player at the ballot box, Jordan is one of the most staunchly anti-abortion Republicans in office. At a time when many independents and Republicans have abandoned Trump because he refused to acknowledge his 2020 loss, Jordan is someone who voted to decertify elections in Pennsylvania and Arizona. And, perhaps most dangerously for Republicans, Jordan has repeatedly called for cuts to Medicare and other welfare programs, which is a deeply unpopular position nationally.

On top of all that: He isn't a great fundraiser, and he's been accused of covering up sexual abuse scandal while a wrestling coach at Ohio State University.

As for Republicans, this is an interesting development. Jordan was famously called a “legislative terrorist” by fellow Republican (and former House Speaker) John Boehner, and he is much better known for starting fires than putting them out. I really don’t know if the 20 Republicans that have refused to vote for him will budge — and it’s possible (perhaps likely) a Jordan speakership is dead. In Congress, that is what happens when you make a name for yourself by being an unlikable firebrand who doesn’t care about playing nice with others. 

But if not Jordan… who? I genuinely have no idea. It looks like Congress is careening toward empowering McHenry, which could allow them to address issues like the conflict in Israel and the war in Ukraine. Such an arrangement would be fragile, though, and given its unprecedented nature I have no concept of how long it might last. Which is part of why the ousting of McCarthy was so surprising and confounding. There was no plan. Now, we are living in that vacuum.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I’m still learning so bear with me: Why does Israel even control Gazas gas and electricity?

— Anonymous, from New York

Tangle: As a bit of context, this question relates to the recent news that Gaza is without water and energy to provide for the basic needs of its citizens following a blockade from Israel and Egypt, the former of which is a response to the attacks from Hamas.

I’ll try to phrase the answer as neutrally as possible. Let’s start with the fact that the Gaza Strip is a small area and is not particularly resource rich. It is therefore dependent on trade with its neighbors for electricity or fuel to generate electricity, and Hamas — the governing party in Gaza — does not have a normal diplomatic relationship with Egypt or Israel.

According to Gisha, an Israeli pro-Palestinian NGO, Gaza requires 400 megawatts of power daily. Gaza’s lone power plant produces only 60 to 80 megawatts. Egypt sells Gaza 28 megawatts, and Israel sells it 120 megawatts. That means that, before the total siege Israel recently ordered, Gaza was already well short of its supply and required scheduled blackouts to ration its resources.

But plenty of other places in the world that are small and resource-scarce have gotten along fine. What has made Gaza’s situation especially fraught is its relationship with Israel and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. In the two decades since former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of military and settlers and Gaza’s subsequent election of Hamas, Israel and Egypt have not dealt directly with Gaza and have imposed a blockade on the territory, as both countries consider Hamas a terrorist group. 

In order to get access to energy and water, the government in the West Bank (which is on the eastern border of Israel), led by the Palestinian Authority (PA), paid for Israel to send fuel, energy, and water into Gaza and then collected payment from Hamas. However, in 2017, the PA announced that it would stop payment for these Gazan imports. Israel continued to send the water, energy, and fuel that Gaza received until recently and deducted the balance from tax revenue collected on behalf of the PA. 

That resulted in a tenuous state of constant insecurity that persisted before the deadly attacks by Hamas this past weekend. Even before this latest outbreak of violence, Gaza’s power typically only lasted about half of the day.

Under the radar.

As the sophistication and technical prowess of China’s military grows, the Biden administration has repeatedly enacted export controls over semiconductor technology in an attempt to maintain the U.S. military’s superiority. Now, it’s expanding those controls to cover cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) chips. This week, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced new restrictions aimed at preventing China’s military from importing advanced semiconductors or equipment, though the rules will only apply to the most advanced AI chips. "The goal is the same goal that has always been, which is to limit PRC (People's Republic of China) access to advanced semiconductors that could fuel breakthroughs in artificial intelligence," Raimondo said. Axios has the story.


  • 15. The number of days since Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker of the House.
  • 36. The number of bills Jim Jordan has introduced since being elected to the House in 2006. 
  • 0. The number of bills introduced by Jordan that have gone on to become law. 
  • 55. The number of Republicans who said they would not vote for Jordan to be Speaker during an internal vote last week.
  • 20. The number of Republicans who did not vote for Jordan on the first Speaker ballot on Tuesday.
  • 8.89%. The percentage of the time Jordan has voted against a majority of House Republicans in the 118th Congress. 
  • 10.9%. The percentage of the time the average House Republican has voted against a majority of the party in the 118th Congress.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the Los Angeles city council scandal.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the preview of the House’s floor vote for the next Speaker. 
  • No more forgiveness: 813 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking about the Biden administration's response to student debt, with 47% saying the administration has adequately addressed it and should not do more. 19% said the administration has addressed it but should do more, 19% said the administration has not addressed it and should not, and 12% said the administration has not adequately addressed debt and should do more. "It's outrageous that taxpayers have to shoulder the burden of people who voluntarily took out loans to improve their lives," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Reanimated spider corpses... for science.
  • Take the poll. Who would you vote for to become Speaker of the House? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Last week, NASA announced results for their study of the composition of an asteroid from its Johnson Space Center in Houston. They were pleased to report that, when they chose the asteroid they picked to study, they’d hit the jackpot. Samples from the 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid Bennu, which were collected in space and brought to Earth by NASA, show evidence of high-carbon content and water, which together could indicate that the building blocks of life on Earth exist elsewhere in the universe. This finding was part of a preliminary assessment of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) science team. “The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “There is still so much science to come – science like we’ve never seen before.” NASA has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.