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How a small, Trumpy group of House Republicans wants to keep a check on Democrats

This is the resistance — to the Resistance.

Rod Rosenstein And FBI Director Wray Testify At House Hearing On 2016 Election
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, the committee he wants to be ranking member of.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump likes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) because Jordan is good at defending Trump on TV. It makes Jordan exactly the kind of person Trump wants in the room as House Democrats look to wield their newfound power.

But not all House Republicans are on board.

Behind the scenes, Republicans have been jockeying for the chance to protect their president in the House’s most powerful oversight committees, Politico reported this week. And Jordan, along with his conservative colleague Rep. Mark Meadows (NC), was among them to take the top minority positions on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees — committees that have jurisdiction over Trump’s tax returns, impeachment, the special counsel investigation, and the like. But Jordan, who hasn’t been afraid of bucking his own party in the past, has lost his fight, going up against more widely liked House Republicans.

“He won’t be seeking the position, it has been made clear to him that leadership is going to be selecting someone else,” Jordan’s spokesman Ian Fury told The Hill. A Republican aide familiar with the conversations made a point to clarify that Jordan is more than welcome to run for the position, but has not made enough inroads with the Republican Steering Committee, which ultimately chooses who fills these positions.

House Democrats have already promised to investigate every aspect of the Trump administration — from the president’s finances and his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian nationals to the Homeland Security Department’s immigration policies. Addressing corruption and government accountability are Democrats’ top priorities going into 2019.

And Trump wants his biggest conservative allies in the House to keep watch. When he congratulated Rep. Kevin McCarthy for claiming the minority leader position, he also encouraged him to pick Jordan as the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee.

But for McCarthy, that would have meant giving more power to some of the most hardline conservatives in a House Republican conference that has grown smaller and Trumpier after this midterm cycle. This is the fight to be the resistance to the Resistance.

Here are the House conservatives who want to shield Trump

House Judiciary and Oversight Cmtes Interview GPS Fusion Contractor Nellie Ohr
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) is good at getting press.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jordan is the kind of Republican who still wants to talk about investigating Hillary Clinton. He loves to echo Trump in calling the Russia investigation a “witch hunt.”

One of the House’s most vocal FBI and Justice Department skeptics, he’s been on the forefront of the conservative fight to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was pushing to dump Attorney General Jeff Sessions much earlier than even Trump.

Meadows, as the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, has been right alongside him.

Together, they have bent over backward to support Trump through every scandal. They’re good at getting in front of the camera, and it’s put them in good graces with the president, who frequently speaks to the two directly. They’ve used that relationship to lobby Trump to support them on their pet issues, from threatening government shutdowns to restrictive social policy around LGBTQ rights.

But Jordan and Meadows, and the Freedom Caucus more broadly, have ruffled many feathers along the way. They have a reputation, even among Republican colleagues, for being ideological to the point of obstructionist. They vote against Republican leadership, force legislation to move further to the right, and push more moderate lawmakers into difficult votes.

Notably, this happened when Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare and pass immigration reform; Meadows negotiated hardline policies that opened many lawmakers to Democratic attacks in the midterms, retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) argued.

House Freedom Caucus members have often been left out of key leadership positions for this reason, serving as a sort of punishment for not being team players. And it’s no secret that they’re not the most loved lawmakers around; just this month, Jordan lost a bid for minority leader against McCarthy by a huge margin.

But now in the minority, and with Trump on their side, Jordan hoped to have more leverage to lobby McCarthy — but apparently that was not enough.

House Republicans are ideologically more conservative now

Democrats made significant gains in the 2018 midterms, winning 39 GOP-held seats. When all is said and done, it’s possible Democrats could win upward of 41 seats this year.

This blue wave not only took away Republicans’ control of the House but also left the slimmed-down Republican conference significantly more conservative — and more Trumpy — than the current Congress.

In the runup to the 2018 midterms, many of the most moderate Republicans in the House announced their retirement. On Election Day, Democrats were most successful in ousting the remaining ones, many of whom sat in suburban, anti-Trump districts.

The most vulnerable Republicans in 2018 proved to be the ones who “sit in blueish districts, who support Trump uneasily, criticize him occasionally, and draw at least some lines he can’t cross,” as Vox’s Ezra Klein put it.

Those who remain are the most bullish on the president. In many ways, that’s a good fit for McCarthy, who has worked to ingratiate himself with conservatives in the House and has always been a stronger political messenger than a policy mastermind.

But it also meant McCarthy was faced with a difficult dilemma: put the Trump-loyal conservatives who drove fissures within the Republican Party, but appear to reflect the tenor of the Republican base, in charge, or reward the team players.

The pressure from conservatives was on:

“Kevin McCarthy has the power to make Jim Jordan the lead Republican on Judiciary,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trumpian conservative who often aligns himself with Jordan and Meadows, told Politico earlier this week. “If he doesn’t, he is actively screwing President Trump. And they both know it.”

Former FBI Counterintelligence Division Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok Testifies At House Hearing On 2016 Election
Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte, right, is retiring. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), center, wants to replace him as the top Republican on the committee.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

But it looks like Republican leadership is favoring the more consensus-building Republicans like Rep. Doug Collins (GA) and Steve Chabot (OH) who are also running for the top spot on the Judiciary Committee.

There’s going to be a lot of movement on the committee level for Republicans, especially in the Judiciary and Oversight committees, where a significant number of lawmakers are retiring or got ousted.

On Judiciary, Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte is retiring, along with Reps. Lamar Smith (TX), Ted Poe (TX), Darrell Issa (CA), and Trey Gowdy (SC). Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) lost her race in November.

Gowdy is also the chair of the Oversight Committee, a committee that Republicans once used to raise hell about Hillary Clinton’s emails. It’s a history Democrats haven’t forgotten, and with their newfound power, it’s very likely the next two years will serve as a payback. Meadows has less of a fight for the top job there.

Democrats’ promise to hold Trump accountable is spooking conservatives

Congressional Republicans have had to answer for — and have largely gone along with — an unprecedented number of corruption and ethics scandals under the Trump administration, from Cabinet secretary resignations to Trump’s personal lawyer taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Russian oligarchs and major international corporations in exchange for “insight” into the Trump administration.

They have done their best to keep Trump’s scandals to a minimum in Congress. They’ve quashed Democrats’ every attempt to surface the president’s tax returns and have been less than eager to investigate corruption scandals within the administration. Even what began as a congressional probe into the Trump campaign’s possible foreign ties became an inquiry into possible Democratic bias within the American intelligence community.

Democrats have promised to bring change in the House. The new top Democratic committee lawmakers have expressed interest in more aggressive probes into every level of the Trump administration and the president’s political circle.

“It’s possible that a crisis will unfold any time they have to work together on a bill, that congressional investigators will unearth scandal after scandal, and even that an impeachment effort might be in the future,” Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes.

It’s what the Democratic base wants to see. Corruption and government ethics repeatedly poll as among the highest priorities for Democratic voters. And it’s exactly what conservative lawmakers and Trump’s base fear most.

Protestors In NYC Call For Trump Impeachment For Acts Of Sexual Assault
There’s a vocal liberal base that wants to see Trump impeached.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Two weeks before the midterms, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that calls to impeach Trump, along with undocumented immigrants crossing the border, were the issues that angered the Republican base most. Republicans tried to use the specter of impeachment on the campaign trail to energize their base.

House Democrats are ready to be the Resistance. And hardline conservatives want their loudest, most Trump-allied voices to protect the president.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Gowdy used his chairmanship in Oversight to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails. Jason Chaffetz was chair of the committee at the time of those investigations. Gowdy was chair of the select committee tasked with investigating Benghazi and Clinton’s involvement. We regret the error.