WASHINGTON - Former President Donald Trump is officially backing Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the pugnacious House Judiciary Committee chairman and longtime Trump defender, to succeed Kevin McCarthy as House speaker.
"Congressman Jim Jordan has been a STAR long before making his very successful journey to Washington, D.C., representing Ohio’s 4th Congressional District," Trump wrote on his Truth Social site shortly after midnight Friday. "He will be a GREAT Speaker of the House, & has my Complete & Total Endorsement!"
The announcement came hours after Texas Rep. Troy Nehls said Thursday night that Trump had decided to back Jordan's bid and after Trump said he would be open to serving as interim leader himself if Republicans couldn't settle on a successor following McCarthy’s stunning ouster.
Trump, the current GOP presidential front-runner, has used the leadership vacuum on the Hill to further demonstrate his control over the Republican Party. House Republicans are deeply fractured and some have been asking him to lead them — a seemingly fanciful suggestion that he also promoted after inflaming the divisions that forced out McCarthy as speaker.
Trump had been telling people in recent days that he preferred Jordan for the post, according to two Republicans familiar with his thinking and granted anonymity to discuss it. But it was unclear whether he intended to announce it before Nehls' tweet.
"Just had a great conversation with President Trump about the Speaker’s race. He is endorsing Jim Jordan, and I believe Congress should listen to the leader of our party," Nehls wrote late Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
In an interview later with The Associated Press, Nehls, who had been encouraging Trump to run for the post himself, said the ex-president instead wanted Jordan.
"After him thinking about it and this and that ... he said he really is in favor of getting behind Jim Jordan," Nehls said. "He believes Jim Jordan is right for the job."
Jordan is one of two leading candidates maneuvering for speaker along with Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Both are trying to lock in the 218 votes required to win the job and need the support of both the far-right and moderate factions of the party. It’s unclear whether Trump's endorsement will force Scalise, the current GOP majority leader, out of the race, or if either can reach the threshold.
Indeed, Nehls said that if no current candidate succeeds in earning the support needed to win, he would once again turn to Trump. "Our conference is divided. Our country is broken. I don’t know who can get to 218," he said in the interview.
Trump earlier in the day had been in talks to visit Capitol Hill next week ahead of a speakership vote that could happen as soon as Wednesday, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement. Trump confirmed the trip to Fox News Digital and said he would travel Tuesday to meet with Republicans.
The trip would have been Trump’s first to the Capitol since leaving office and since his supporters attacked the building in a bid to halt the peaceful transition of power on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump has been indicted in both Washington and Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the election, which he lost to President Joe Biden.
Nehls, however, said it was unlikely Trump would make the trip following the endorsement.
Jordan is one of Trump’s biggest champions on the Hill and has been leading the investigations into prosecutors who have charged the former president. He was also part of a group of Republicans who worked with Trump to overturn his defeat ahead of Jan. 6.
Scalise has also worked closely with Trump over the years.
One of the people familiar with the planning had cautioned earlier Thursday that, if Trump did go ahead with the visit, he would be there to talk with Republican lawmakers and not to pitch himself for the role.
Still, Trump continued to stoke speculation, telling Fox News Digital Thursday that he would accept a short-term role as speaker — for anywhere from 30 to 90 days — if another candidate doesn’t have the votes to win.
"I have been asked to speak as a unifier because I have so many friends in Congress," he told the outlet. "If they don’t get the vote, they have asked me if I would consider taking the speakership until they get somebody longer-term, because I am running for president."
In a social media post earlier in the day, he added that he "will do whatever is necessary to help with the Speaker of the House selection process, short term, until the final selection of a GREAT REPUBLICAN SPEAKER is made - A Speaker who will help a new, but highly experienced President, ME, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
The Republican conference is filled with members generally supportive of Trump, but whether they’d back him to serve as speaker remained to be seen. The role is a demanding position — effectively running the Capitol and dealing with hundreds of lawmakers — and requires an attention to the arcane details of legislating that Trump showed little interest in even when he was president.
While he is dominating his GOP presidential rivals, Trump is also still traveling to early primary states to campaign and has been spending much of his time focused on the four criminal indictments and several civil cases he is facing.
While there is no requirement that a person be elected to the House to serve as speaker, every one of the 55 speakers the House has elected has been a member of the chamber. From time to time, lawmakers have thrown their votes to those outside of Congress, often as a protest against the candidates running.
Trump helped McCarthy win the speakership in January after 15 rounds of voting. But he exhorted Republicans to impeach Biden and to reject deals that McCarthy negotiated. Last month, he urged the right flank to support a government shutdown if Republicans did not win deep spending cuts, declaring on social media that the GOP "lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed, in this case, Crooked (as Hell!) Joe Biden!"
McCarthy ultimately moved to keep the government open for 45 days without the cuts demanded by hard-right conservatives. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and longtime Trump ally, cited that decision as reason to move to depose the speaker.
Among those who had pushed Trump for speaker was Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a longtime Trump ally who didn’t vote to remove McCarthy. She posted on X that she believed "he would take the job."
Nehls, the Texas Republican who was among the first to promote Trump for the job, said before his Thursday evening conservation with Trump that he’d been contacted "by multiple Members of Congress willing to support and offer nomination speeches for Donald J. Trump to be Speaker of the House."
"Next week," he wrote on X, "is going to be HUGE."
Colvin reported from New York. AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.