WASHINGTON ― Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) refused to support Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for House speaker because of Jordan’s own refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden’s very obvious victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
But after Jordan dropped out, Buck gladly voted for Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), even though Johnson had not disowned his past support of the former president’s election denialism ― and even played a key role in mainstreaming it within the GOP by organizing a legal brief seeking to throw out the results in key states.
So what gives?
According to Buck, Jordan is “different than Mike Johnson” even though on this particular question, the differences seem subtle. Basically, Buck argues Johnson’s legal efforts were more righteous than Jordan’s political ones, even if many outside observers would say the former set the stage for the latter.
There may be some history between Buck and Jordan ― an unrelated beef, explained below ― but Buck denies there was anything personal about his opposition to the Ohio Republican.
Here’s what happened during this month’s speaker battle: Buck first confronted Jordan and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) about the 2020 election during a closed Republican meeting in the Capitol basement, where Jordan refused to respond directly to his question about whether Biden had won fair and square.
Because they gave indirect answers, Buck said he voted “present” during the closed-door GOP speaker election the next day.
“If we don’t have the moral clarity to decide whether President Biden won or not, we don’t have the moral clarity to rule in this country, period,” Buck said afterward.
Then, a week later, after Scalise withdrew his bid and Jordan became the nominee, Buck met with Jordan privately and pressed him not just on the election, but on his role in the events of Jan. 6, 2021, the day Trump backers stormed the Capitol. Buck said Jordan was “more knowledgeable and involved in the whole challenging the election” that day and Jordan’s answers hadn’t allayed his concerns. Buck was one of 20 Republicans who voted against Jordan in his first of three failed ballots on the House floor.
After Jordan had suggested to his colleagues that the House should empower Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) as temporary speaker while Republicans continued fighting among themselves ― a proposal that likely would have required Democratic votes ― Buck worked against it.
Two sources said Buck approached a group of progressives in a Capitol hallway and told them that Democrats should stay away from the temporary speaker proposal because it would keep Jordan’s speaker bid alive, and that Jordan’s bid first needed to go down on the House floor. (Several Democrats expressed interest in empowering McHenry, but as a group they never endorsed the idea before Republicans killed it themselves.)
Buck recalls the conversation a bit differently, saying it wasn’t about beating Jordan.
“What I said to a couple of progressives was, ‘If you initiate it, it’s gonna get a lot of pushback from our side,’” Buck said. “So don’t don’t start initiating things with McHenry because we may very well support him for this temporary speaker position, but not if it looks like it’s coming from the Democrats.”
After Jordan withdrew his speaker bid, Republicans regrouped this week and settled on Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who himself withdrew after just four hours. Then Republicans realized they needed a relative newcomer who hadn’t made too many enemies, so they settled on Johnson.
Buck supported Johnson even though the Louisiana Republican was the lead name on a Supreme Court brief seeking to throw out the presidential election result in December 2020, citing “an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities,” even though no serious allegation of organized fraud ever materialized.
“That’s absolutely how you challenge an election, you go to court,” Buck said, noting that he had added his own name to the brief before he spoke out against plans to vote against certifying the election.
Just like Jordan, Johnson dodged reporters’ questions this month about whether the election was stolen ― including at a press conference during which Johnson smiled while his colleagues yelled at a reporter to “shut up.” But Buck said Jordan’s case was different because of his Jan. 6 involvement, which included multiple phone calls with Trump that day.
Buck was first elected in 2014. He is a conservative and a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, though he’s a little unusual among Republicans for his skepticism of monopoly power and his support for tougher antitrust enforcement.
In the previous Congress that started in 2020, with Democrats controlling the speaker’s gavel and chairing the committees, Buck was the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. He worked with Democrats on antitrust legislation that actually became law, creating new fees on corporate mergers.
But when Republicans regained the House this year, Buck didn’t become chairman of the subcommittee the way ranking members usually do. Instead, with Jordan as chair of the broader Judiciary Committee, the antitrust subcommittee was renamed to focus on “Administrative State, Regulatory Reform, and Antitrust,” essentially re-prioritizing Republicans’ anti-government tendencies over market intervention. Jordan tapped Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) as chair, essentially blocking any chance at antitrust reforms reeling in the power of Big Tech or other industries.
Buck insisted the committee reshuffling had nothing to do with his opposition to Jordan’s speaker bid. “It isn’t personal at all, it had nothing to do with that,” he said.
In recent months Buck has also spoken out against top party priorities championed by Jordan, including the GOP’s ongoing, haphazard efforts to impeach Biden and its Jordan-led oversight of the Justice Department.
Jordan’s spokesman recently put out a statement saying the two were friends who would continue working together. “I thought that was a great statement,” Buck said.