Jim Jordan, Embattled Conservative, Says He Will Run for House Speaker

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the founder of the House Freedom Caucus, is embroiled in a scandal from his days as a college wrestling coach.

WASHINGTON — Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a powerful hard-line conservative who has been embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal from his days as a college wrestling coach, announced on Thursday that he will run to succeed Paul D. Ryan as House speaker.

Mr. Jordan’s bid is sure to roil the already shaky succession of power that Mr. Ryan set in motion when he announced that he would retire at the end of the year. Publicly, Republican leaders have backed the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California. Privately, some Republicans have said Mr. McCarthy would not be able to unite the fractious party, and the No. 3 Republican in the House, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is waiting in the wings.

Now comes the divisive figure of Mr. Jordan, who has the backing of the small but important House Freedom Caucus, which he founded, and outside conservative groups that have been pushing him to run. He has divided Republicans repeatedly with his aggressive tactics, most recently this week by filing articles of impeachment against the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.

Mr. Ryan responded Thursday by saying he would not back the action, and the House left for its monthlong August recess without taking it up.

“I don’t think we should be cavalier with this process or with this term,” the speaker told reporters. “I don’t think that this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But in some sense, the political damage to Republicans was done. Looking for a foil ahead of the midterm elections, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, latched on, suggesting that conservatives had moved to impeach Mr. Rosenstein merely to divert attention from the former college wrestlers who have accused Mr. Jordan of knowing about sexual misconduct at Ohio State University and doing nothing.

Asked what the motivation for the impeachment effort was, Ms. Pelosi said, “Well, I don’t know, but what I’ve heard is that Jim Jordan wants to just take attention away from the scrutiny that he is under in Ohio. That could be part of it.”

Mr. Jordan is not likely to muster a majority of the House Republican conference. And Republicans may well not control the House next year. Democrats must pick up 23 seats to control the chamber, and more than 30 Republican-held seats are already either leaning toward the Democrats or are tossups, according to nonpartisan political analysts.

But a run for speaker could make Mr. Jordan a kingmaker who could use his coalition of hard-liners to set the terms for the next Republican leadership slate.

His decision to publicly declare his candidacy was a display of brazen self-confidence, especially as storm clouds gather over Ohio State, where he served as the wrestling team’s assistant coach at a time when the team doctor, Richard H. Strauss, engaged in sexual misconduct, according to dozens of former athletes and students.

Several wrestlers who competed for him in the late 1980s and early 1990s have come forward to say Mr. Jordan turned a blind eye.

Mr. Jordan has vehemently denied that he knew of the abuse and has mounted an aggressive counterattack. A platoon of former wrestlers, coaches and Republicans from President Trump to Mr. Ryan, has stood by him.

In announcing his bid to conservative colleagues, Mr. Jordan offered a clear message: Congressional Republicans must do better to support Mr. Trump’s agenda and inspire voters to trust them again.

“I believe we have given the American people a reason to question our commitment to reform,” Mr. Jordan wrote in a letter to his Republican colleagues announcing his bid.

“Should the American people entrust us with the majority again in the 116th Congress, our clear mandate will be to continue working with President Trump to keep the promises we made,” Mr. Jordan continued.

Thus far, Mr. Jordan’s appeal with conservatives has remained remarkably strong, regardless of the investigation at Ohio State. Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania and a member of the Freedom Caucus, brushed off a question about how the Ohio State matter would affect Mr. Jordan, calling him a “great guy.”

“There’s no one greater in this place,” Mr. Perry said.

But the matter shows no sign of going away. Ohio State this month announced that independent investigators had interviewed more than 100 former students and athletes who reported that they had been victims of sexual misconduct committed by Dr. Strauss.

Conservative groups have not backed off their cheerleading for a Jordan speaker run. The American Family Association, the Tea Party Patriots, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks have all pressed him to run. FreedomWorks, which helped bankroll the Tea Party movement, has pledged to spend at least $500,000 to support his bid.

In a statement sent to reporters, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the current chairman of the Freedom Caucus, endorsed the group’s founder.

“I can honestly say Jim is one of the most honorable, thoughtful and principled men I’ve met in Washington,” Mr. Meadows said. “Jim is a fighter, a leader and a true conservative in every way.”

Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan, along with nine other conservative lawmakers, opened a long-shot bid to impeach Mr. Rosenstein after complaining bitterly that he had hidden information from Congress in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Jordan has emerged as a combative foil to the Justice Department and the F.B.I., and has become known for castigating officials from both agencies in public hearings while deploring the “deep state,” an alleged cabal of liberal bureaucrats conspiring to bring down the president.

A number of prominent conservatives have said that they would not support the effort to impeach Mr. Rosenstein, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mr. Ryan, and by Thursday, the impeachment efforts appeared already to have cooled.

Mr. Meadows told reporters that he was now hoping that a contempt-of-Congress process against Mr. Rosenstein could gain steam instead.

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