Senate Lions; House Hyenas

By: Brian A. Howey

Last week all seven of Indiana’s congressional Republicans voted for an insurrectionist to become Speaker of the House and second in the presidential line of succession. On Wednesday, they elected U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, who Rep. Matt Gaetz is calling “MAGA Mike.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was defeated on each of three ballots, his opposition within the GOP caucus growing with each ballot. That came three weeks after Speaker Kevin McCarthy was jettisoned by eight fringe Republicans, leaving a gaping hole in the United States government as the Hamas crisis engulfed Israel and the Middle East, while Ukraine continues to try and thwart genocidal Russia. Next month, the U.S. government will shut down unless speaker and work with Democrats on a funding plan.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, the presumed Indiana Republican U.S. Senate nominee, ardently backed Jordan. On Oct. 17, he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “I am proud to cast my vote on behalf of northeast Indiana to make Jim Jordan the next Speaker of the House!”

After Jordan’s trio of losses, Banks’ rhetoric became more and more … peculiar.

On Oct. 19, as the Israeli crisis worsened and President Biden proposed $106 billion in aid for U.S. allies that would need a functioning House to pass, Banks posted, “Expanding powers for a temporary Speaker is a dangerous precedent and exactly what the Democrats hoped would happen.”

Then came a notion that paralyzed Republicans might have to work with Democrats to reopen the chamber for business.

“There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more than Jim Jordan as speaker of the House,” Banks told a Capitol Hill press scrum late last week. “What they are doing is walking Republicans off the plank. We don’t deserve the majority if we go along with the plan to give Democrats control of the House. It’s a giant betrayal to our Republican voters.”

Jordan has been described by former Republican Speaker John Boehner this way: “Jordan was a terrorist as a legislator. I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart — never building anything, never putting anything together.”

In Jordan’s 16 years in the House, he has never passed a bill. According to the conservative publication The Bulwark, “Jordan was an early and enthusiastic recruit in Donald Trump’s war on the republic and reality — in public and in private. He urged Trump not to concede. He demanded Congress not certify Joe Biden’s victory in the ceremony scheduled for January 6, 2021.”

That was part of his undoing. Many of the 22 Republicans who voted against him cited Jordan’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Peter Wehner, a member of President George W. Bush’s administration, posted on X: “Republicans who have been electing nihilists, cranks, conspiracy theorists and institutional arsonists are now upset that nihilists, cranks, conspiracy theorists and institutional arsonists are creating chaos. Go figure.”

When House Republicans chose U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota to seek the chair, Donald Trump tweeted his disapproval, and Banks was on board. “I’ve supported every Republican nominee to be Speaker of the House so far, but I will not vote for Tom Emmer on the House floor. The left-flank of our conference blocked Speaker-designee Jim Jordan then nominated the single most liberal member of leadership to continue business as usual in Washington.”

Banks and Emmer have a history. In November 2022, when Banks appeared to be on a House leadership path, Banks defeated Emmer 82-72 on the first ballot for majority whip. On the second ballot, Banks lost to Emmer 115-106.

Emmer went down in flames Tuesday, prompting House Republicans to nominate four-term Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., who would be the least experienced speaker elected in 140 years. He’s never served in a senior leadership position or even as a full committee chair.

Johnson was the lead organizer of an amicus brief, ultimately signed by 125 other House Republicans, backing the Texas-led lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to intervene in the vote counting in key swing states Biden won. Indiana U.S. Reps. Trey Hollingsworth, Jim Baird, the late Jackie Walorski, Greg Pence and Banks signed that brief. The New York Times called Johnson “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” after the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, Banks said: “Mike Johnson is a man of integrity and a principled conservative. I will be proud to cast my vote on behalf of northeast Indiana for him on the floor tomorrow to make him the next Speaker of the House!”

Is it any wonder that Banks is opting for a move to the Senate from the notorious House after months of this dysfunction?

It’s been said that Hoosiers tend to elect “Senate lions.” U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh authored two of the 26 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Title IX. Richard Lugar helped save Chrysler Corp. in 1979 and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act. Dan Quayle was elected vice president and Evan Bayh was nosed out of the 2008 veepstakes by Joe Biden. Dan Coats became ambassador to Germany on Sept. 10, 2001, and was President Trump’s director of national intelligence. Joe Donnelly is the U.S. envoy to The Vatican.

A Senate lion?

No, Jim Banks has become a House laughing hyena.

-Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.