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Jim Jordan, Donald Trump, and Reed O'Connor walk into the news
A check-in on how our governmental institutions are dealing with challenges to their very purposes.
Three snapshots from Monday offer insights into how our federal government is doing this week.
This morning, I discuss those moments — and the questions those snapshots raise for the future.
The Republicans’ (current) choice
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio should not be a serious contender for the speaker of the House.
Although he’s the Republican caucus’s pick for one of the key roles in the federal government currently, Jordan was throwing grease on the “overturn the election” fire throughout late 2020 and right up to Jan. 6 — including voting to overturn the election after the electoral count resumed following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Jordan strongly supported Trump’s efforts to challenge the election results in November and not to give up in December, as The New York Times put it in one key report, adding of his January 2021 efforts:
Jordan himself later refused to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee, leading that committee to refer him to the House Ethics Committee.
Now, Jordan is inching closer to being in the presidential line of succession, according to Monday’s reports.
He, of course, has many other failings, both as a leader and as a person, and they are well-documented and well-known.
But for the Republican Party of 2023 — the Trump-infused variety — all of this is not only acceptable, it is perhaps inevitable.
A leader with little respect for the institution he is leading is exactly what Donald Trump brought to the presidency — and it is what Jordan will bring to the speakership if he manages to get the gavel.
Don’t take my word for it — although I am an Ohioan who has been dealing with his particular brand of poison since he was a state senator in Columbus and I was in law school and a young lawyer in the state’s capital city.
A third Ohioan, former Speaker John Boehner — another Republican — has called Jordan one of several “political terrorists” in Congress.
“Oh, yeah, Jim Jordan especially, my colleague from Ohio. I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart – never building anything, never putting anything together,” he told CBS News in April 2021.
This is Republicans’ current pick to lead the House.
This is not a case or a lawsuit — yet — but it is a key aspect of our governmental structure, and Jordan’s election would be another sign that norms continue faltering, even with Trump himself not in office.
The question that remains, even as I suspect I know the answer, is: Are the House Republicans OK with that?
[Update, 4:00 p.m.: Rep. Jim Jordan failed to win the speakership in the first vote on Tuesday, securing only 200 votes — and 20 Republicans voting for someone else. All 212 Democrats voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.]
Trump faces the law
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, a regular refrain was that Trump would be treated like a normal person and face investigations and prosecutions where warranted once he left office. This was so up to and including the period shortly after his presidency ended — when some Republicans argued that impeachment wasn’t the right way to deal with Trump’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 because the criminal courts were. (I’m not sure I agree with that premise, but, here we are.)
The truth is that almost everyone bent over backwards in the years since then to make it possible for Trump to avoid most if not all prosecution. But, he is Trump. He fought against accountability once he left office in the same ways he fought it in office and before office.
That response, with prosecutors focused on him, has led to the four criminal prosecutions he now faces — with several of the specific charges relating to his responses to the investigations.
On Monday, though he was still treated better than most in his situation would be treated, Trump got a taste of what it means to have prosecutors and a judge skeptically considering your every move. He learned what it feels like — pre-conviction — to have to justify your actions.
He learned, in short, what it means to be a criminal defendant in our system.
And, in U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s courtroom, it led to a partial gag order on Trump. From NBC News:
WASHINGTON — The judge overseeing the federal election interference case on Monday issued a partial gag order forbidding former President Donald Trump from making statements about potential witnesses or disparaging comments about the prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said she would not impose restrictions on Trump's statements about Washington, D.C., and its residents, nor on statements criticizing the government or the Justice Department generally. But she imposed a restriction on all parties, including Trump, that banned them from making or reposting any statements publicly targeting the special counsel or his staff, as well as court staff members or personnel.
Trump’s lawyer has said they will appeal the restrictions, and Trump himself has already lashed out on Truth Social.
Because of course he has. This is what it will be. This is what it is.
The question now is: How will Chutkan respond when Trump does something that clearly violates the order — and how will Trump, his lawyers, and the Republican Party respond to that?
SCOTUS steps in
I wrote on Oct. 8 about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recurring decision of whether to rein in out-of-control lower courts.
On Monday, the high court sent a signal — albeit, again, with no explanation — that there are limits to the extremism of those lower courts, particularly when it comes at the cost of the Supreme Court’s power.
With no noted dissents, the court vacated — eliminated — a lower court’s order barring the Biden administration from enforcing its “ghost guns” rule. The ruling means that the administration will, again, be able to enforce the rule during appeals.
The justices had previously held in August, on a 5-4 vote, that the administration could enforce the rule while the underlying case — in which U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor tried to vacate the rule itself — is being appealed.
O’Connor tried to find a way around that August order, though, with the injunction blocking enforcement of the rule, a move that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit endorsed for the most part.
Nonetheless, the justices rejected that effort on Monday. Now, as I’ve written previously, this could become part of a pattern — with the justices rejecting some extreme lower court moves while still using extremist rulings overall to continually move the law further rightward without limits.
But, on Monday at least, the rejection of lower court extremism was clear.
The question here is: Will it continue?
Law Dork with Chris Geidner brings you independent, reader-supported legal and political journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a paid or free subscriber today.