Ohio Representative Jim Jordan's embattled bid to become the next House Speaker still has a few believers—namely, his New York colleague Pete King, who believes allegations that Jordan once deliberately ignored sexual abuse allegations make him a "stronger candidate."
"Nobody wants the allegations there, but if they're not proven, it can make you a stronger candidate," King told NPR on Wednesday. "If you stood up to it and show they're not true and you go forward."
King, who's been representing New York's 2nd congressional district for 13 terms, was joined by other prominent House Republicans, who voiced their continued support for Jordan. Their words of solidarity come amid calls for an investigation into Jordan's time as assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University more than two decades ago, when former wrestlers said they were sexually abused by the team doctor.
King's opponent, Liuba Grechen Shirley, says the longtime incumbent's backing of a congressman accused of willfully ignoring sexual misconduct allegations proves it's time to unseat him.
"Pete King has always been an extremist: he voted to take away healthcare from 74,000 people in our district, wants to charge doctors who perform abortions with murder, and consistently defends sexual abusers, instead of their victims," Grechen Shirley tells Broadly in an emailed statement. "King has only been able to get away with calling himself a moderate because he hasn't faced a real Democratic challenger in over a decade—until now."
King has long been considered a "moderate" Republican, someone "with whom liberals can find common ground." But during his time in office, King has voted consistently against abortion rights, protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, paid parental leave and backed President Donald Trump's initial executive order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, calling it "overdue."
Grechen Shirley, a first-time candidate, has mounted a strong challenge to King, stepping into the national spotlight earlier this year when she petitioned the Federal Election Committee for the right to use campaign funds to pay for childcare—a significant barrier to more women running for office. Her petition won the support of a slate of sitting congresswomen as well as Hillary Clinton, who penned a letter of support for Grechen Shirley. In May, the FEC approved her request.
Still, Grechen Shirley faces an uphill battle to defeat King, a solidly Republican district that includes Suffolk County, which went to Trump in 2016. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the body responsible for electing Democrats to the House, has picked out the district as one that could turn blue in November.
"With a President who publicly brags about assaulting woman, and new allegations of sexual harassment emerging against men in power daily, it's more important than ever that we have representatives in Congress who trust and believe victims," Grechen Shirley says. "Peter King's support for Jim Jordan is horrific, but hardly surprising—he will continue to blindly defend Jim Jordan and Donald Trump until we vote him out."
King's office did not immediately respond to Broadly's requests for comment.