In both her Texas legislative career and in the U.S. House, Jordan made the conscious decision to pursue power within the established system. One of her first moves in Congress was to establish relationships with Members of the Texas delegation, which had strong institutional connections. Her attention to influence inside the House was demonstrated by where she sat in the House Chamber’s large, theater-style seating arrangement. CBC members traditionally sat to the far left of the chamber, but Jordan chose to sit near the center aisle because she could hear better, be seen by the presiding officer, and save an open seat for colleagues who wanted to stop and chat. Her seating preference as well as her loyalty to the Texas delegation agitated fellow CBC members, but both were consistent with Jordan’s model of seeking congressional influence.
Jordan also believed that an important committee assignment, one where she would be a trailblazer because of her gender and race, would magnify her influence. Thus, she disregarded suggestions that she accept a seat on the Education and Labor Committee and used her connection with Texan Lyndon B. Johnson—she had been his guest at the White House during her time as a state legislator—to secure a plum committee assignment on the Judiciary Committee. Securing former President Johnson’s intercession with Wilbur Daigh Mills of Arkansas, the chairman of the Committee on Committees, she landed a seat on the Judiciary Committee, where she served for her three terms in the House. In the 94th and 95th Congresses (1975–1979), she was also assigned to the Committee on Government Operations.
It was as a freshman Member of the Judiciary Committee, however, that Jordan earned national recognition. In the summer of 1974, as the committee considered articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon for crimes associated with the Watergate Scandal, Jordan delivered opening remarks that shook the committee room and the large television audience that had tuned in to the proceedings. “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total,” Jordan said. “I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” She then explained the reasoning behind her support of each of the five articles of impeachment against President Nixon. In conclusion, Jordan said that if her fellow committee members did not find the evidence compelling enough, “then perhaps the eighteenth-century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth-century paper shredder.” Reaction to Jordan’s statement was overwhelming. Jordan recalled that people swarmed around her car after the hearings to congratulate her, and many people sent the Texas Representative letters of praise. One person even posted a message on a series of billboards in Houston: “Thank you, Barbara Jordan, for explaining the Constitution to us.” The Watergate impeachment hearings helped create Jordan’s reputation as a respected national politician.