The audition to become President Donald Trump’s most visible defender in Congress — and lead the fight against any impeachment proceedings — is in full swing.
One of Trump’s fiercest allies, Rep. Jim Jordan, on Friday began flirting openly with a bid to serve as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, the panel where a flood of Democratic-led investigations, and potential impeachment, will begin.
Story Continued Below
“We’re still looking at it,” the Ohio Republican said when asked if he would run for the post. “I’ve always been one who’s going to fight to get the truth out no matter what role I have. So we’ll just wait and see.”
Republicans’ pick will be critical for Trump and his party. The new House Democratic majority has detailed a long list of targets for investigation, from Trump’s business entanglements to his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. Even after Republicans were routed in the midterms, GOP leaders are vowing to aggressively defend against Democratic probes, which they’ve labeled “presidential harassment.”
The top slot on the Judiciary Committee also comes with a powerful policy portfolio. The committee has jurisdiction over immigration, gun control and abortion, as well as oversight of the Justice Department and FBI. But with Capitol Hill polarized over the president, the next ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee will likely be spending more time fighting for Trump than legislating with Democrats. It’s a reality that is already coloring the jockeying for the job.
Trump, in fact, has already given Jordan a boost — calling incoming GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and urging him to ensure Jordan, a longtime McCarthy adversary, got a top committee post next year. That led to whispers and speculation that Trump wanted Jordan in the Judiciary slot, though Trump has declined to explicitly endorse him.
“I would like to see Jim in a high position ’cause he deserves it,” Trump told the Daily Caller on Wednesday. “He’s fantastic, but I haven’t gotten into the endorsement or not.”
Jordan’s interest in the role has scrambled the calculus for the other GOP lawmakers eyeing the job, including Rep. Doug Collins, who’s widely perceived as the front-runner.
Collins has spent a year maneuvering meticulously to become the lead Republican on the committee. The affable Georgian has crisscrossed the country fundraising for colleagues, forged relationships with Republicans in House leadership and showcased his legislative chops by partnering with Democrats to advance high profile legislation.
But since Election Day, when rumors of Jordan’s interest in the position began to surface, Collins has taken pains to emphasize his role as a zealous Trump supporter.
Collins’ allies note that he has taken on the Justice Department over GOP allegations that senior officials were biased against Trump — an issue Jordan has championed for a year. And Collins himself says that even as he considers ways to collaborate with Democrats, he’ll relish the chance to beat back any “overreach” in their investigations of the president.
“I can fight as hard as anyone on this stuff,” he said in an interview.
And as for Jordan’s reputation as a pro-Trump street fighter, Collins said he’s better equipped to be a strategic defender of the president. He’s been on the Rules Committee, he noted, which gives him expertise on potential tactics to fight Democratic probes.
“You don’t always have to be the loudest voice in the room,” he said. “You just have to be the smartest voice in the room.”
Jordan would likely face an uphill climb to win the post — even if he got an explicit push from Trump. That’s because the coveted slot is awarded by the leadership-dominated GOP Steering Committee, which will meet later this month to nominate committee leaders.
The committee’s recommendations are also ratified by the full House GOP. Jordan, vice chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has alienated elements of the Republican Conference with hard-line tactics over the years. His opposition to McCarthy’s 2015 bid to become speaker helped doom the California Republican’s chances.
But Jordan’s looming presence appears to have shifted the Judiciary Committee race.
Collins is working double-time to emphasize his track record of support for Trump’s priorities. The day after Democrats won the majority, Collins’ first statement was an attack on incoming Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“Our counterparts across the aisle are giddy about running roughshod over process and weaponizing taxpayer resources against President Trump, the Commander in Chief Americans elected,” he wrote. “We’re here to remind Mr. Nadler that a House majority doesn’t give liberals license to chase political vendettas.”
The tone was a turnabout for Collins, who had spent much of the year highlighting his outreach to Democrats on a bill to modernize copyright laws for the music industry and, more recently, forge a hard-won deal on prison reform legislation — which Trump himself embraced last week and highlighted at a White House press conference with Collins standing at his right shoulder.
It was the second time Collins was at the White House for a legislative event this year. He stood alongside the president for the signing of the bipartisan Music Modernization Act.
Despite his harsh words for Nadler, Collins said he and the liberal New Yorker get along.
“We do have a good relationship in the sense that we can talk,” he said. Collins added that he sees potential for bipartisan cooperation on issues like intellectual property, criminal justice reform and privacy rights.
Though Collins appears to have an inside track for the post, he also must overcome a bid by a more senior GOP lawmaker, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who has been touting his more than two decades of time on the committee in a pitch to colleagues.
Chabot is one of two remaining House members who helped manage the GOP impeachment of President Bill Clinton, experience he said would be invaluable if Democrats try to impeach Trump in the next Congress.
In a phone interview, Chabot noted that he’s the dean of the Ohio delegation — the one from which Jordan also hails — and has worked to support Republicans in the pivotal swing state. He’s also got a long track record of legislating, noting that he helped pass abortion restrictions and victims’ rights legislation and oversaw hearings on reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. And he noted that he has known and served on the committee with Nadler for decades.
Despite Collins’ relationships, Chabot said he’s been talking with members of the GOP Steering Committee “off and on for three or four months” and says his chances to win the post are “excellent.”
Chabot, too, noted Jordan’s potential entry into the contest. He said he likes Jordan and that they generally vote the same way on legislation. “Didn’t Nancy Pelosi say, ‘Come on in the water’s warm?'” Chabot joked, referencing the Democratic leader’s comments welcoming a potential challenge to her position.
“If we have a dozen people who jump in,” he said, “I would stack my credentials and my bona fides against anybody else.”
Democrats are warily eyeing the emerging contest for who Nadler may be squaring off against next year.
Nadler has often noted that the committee attracts some of the most ideological members of Congress because its roster of divisive issues repels moderates and lawmakers in swing districts.
“While the Judiciary Committee is usually where you find the most partisan debate, some members engage in it more than others,” said a Democratic committee staffer. “Hopefully there can be cooperation and opportunities to work together in the new Congress with whomever the Republicans elect.”
Nadler, though, has foreshadowed an aggressive stance that’s sure to mean confrontation with Trump and his supporters.
“@RealDonaldTrump may not like it,” he tweeted just hours after Democrats secured the House majority, “but he and his administration will be held accountable to our laws and to the American people.”