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Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, the leading contenders to be the next Speaker, have broadly conservative voting records. But they have different approaches to legislating and political styles that would have implications for how House Republicans operate heading into an election year.
A Scalise speakership might not look much different than that of ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who he served under in leadership for the past several years. The Louisianan is a mainstream conservative who’s somewhat more inclined than hardliners in his party to bipartisan deal making, highlights traditional GOP issues like tax cuts and domestic energy production, and has solid ties to K Street.
Jordan is a conservative populist who’s made his name pushing partisan oversight and is a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. Endorsed by former President Donald Trump, the Ohioan favors confrontation over compromise and is less friendly to the party’s traditional business allies.
Here’s a closer look at the records of Scalise, the consensus-seeking majority leader, and Jordan, the hard-charging House Judiciary Committee chairman, as they vie for the top job on Capitol Hill.
Scalise and Jordan boast overall conservative voting records that have earned them an average party unity score of 98% since 2011, according to Bloomberg Government data. Their biggest difference has been over bipartisan spending and economic packages.
Jordan frequently balks at bipartisan bills on government funding.
McCarthy lost his job last week after he cut a stopgap spending deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown (PL 118-15). Those dollars run out Nov. 17, and the new speaker will need to weigh how aggressively to confront the White House to get conservative goals funded.
Scalise supported the short-term extension now in place while Jordan opposed it.
A high-profile bill Jordan opposed and Scalise supported was a March 2020 measure (PL 116-127) that included paid sick leave and additional unemployment benefits in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jordan, not Scalise, was one of 40 hardline conservatives who said they didn’t have enough time to review the bill before voting, given the billions of dollars it spent. As the outbreak continued, the party moved in Jordan’s direction, with more Republicans questioning Covid-19 spending that Democrats still generally supported.
It’s an example of how Jordan’s pushed his party to the right as one of the conservatives willing to vote down bipartisan legislation that leadership supports. He’s one of the reasons the modern-day GOP looks so different from 2007, when he first took office.
“Jim Jordan found himself ostracized and called a knucklehead” during then-Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) tenure, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), crediting McCarthy for bringing Jordan into the fold. “Today, he’s a very effective chairman.”
If elected, Scalise would be the first Southern House speaker since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), an argument he’s likely to make in courting his conference’s huge block of southerners. His district, like Jordan’s, is firmly Republican, and neither has faced significant opposition in recent elections.
Scalise, who hails from an oil-rich region, frequently talks up oil and gas exploration as a way of boosting the economy and curbing inflation. He has a long track record on the Energy and Commerce Committee of opposing climate change bills.
Changes to agriculture policy are looming with the five-year farm bill set to expire at the end of 2023. Scalise in 2018 favored the farm bill (PL 115-334), citing economic stability for farmers, while Jordan opposed it on concerns about a lack of immigration policy. Their differing views could impact the likelihood of a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill passing this year.
Members who endorsed Scalise have highlighted his leadership record and experience in Congress. He served as majority whip, minority whip, and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee before becoming majority leader.
“Time and time again, Steve has solved the toughest problems facing our Party and our nation,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said in a statement. “He is the leader who can communicate our shared conservative values to all 50 states, and who deeply understands how the federal government impacts the lives of each and every American.”
Jordan is seen as less focused on legislation and more on oversight as a leader on the Judiciary and Oversight and Accountability committees. His populist persona is shaped in part by his northern Ohio manufacturing district that has faced economic setbacks in recent years.
He’s used his committee posts to push conservative messages, including most recently backing efforts to impeach President Joe Biden. Both Scalise and Jordan voted to overturn Arizona and Pennsylvania’s presidential election vote, though Jordan’s more vocal defense of Trump made him a hero to the right.
“He’s a very popular conservative across the nation,” said Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas) of Jordan. “And I think that that goes a long way to earning people’s trust, not only in this conference, not only in the Congress, but across the nation.”
Like most Republicans, Scalise has generally supported efforts to bolster Pentagon spending and foreign aid. Ukraine has offered the biggest and most immediate contrast between the two men. Jordan has indicated he wouldn’t support Ukraine aid as speaker, instead focusing on conservative policy at the Southern border. Just last week, Jordan opposed approving a tranche of $300 million in Ukraine aid that Scalise supported (H.R. 5692).
“The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine,” Jordan said last week after a meeting where he courted Texas Republicans. “It is the border situation and crime on the streets.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who leads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and supports helping Ukraine, said Jordan’s message inside the room was softer. McCaul contended that Jordan, like many House Republicans, just wants border legislation as well as the foreign funds.
Scalise last year voted for legislation shipping $40 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Kyiv (Public Law 117-128). Jordan voted against it.
Jordan also supported amendments blocking Ukraine funding from the annual military policy bill (H.R. 2670) and the spending bill for the Department of Defense (H.R. 4365) while Scalise voted against them.
— With assistance from Greg Giroux.