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Paul Ryan Clears Biggest Hurdle to Speaker Bid

With the HFC's support, Ryan is ready to move forward. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 9:20 p.m. | Paul D. Ryan fell a few votes short of a formal endorsement from the House Freedom Caucus Wednesday evening, but decided he had earned enough support from the Republican Conference’s right flank to move forward with a bid for speaker.  

“I’m grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus,” he said in a statement following the HFC vote. “I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team.” The Ways and Means chairman made an endorsement from the Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 hard-line conservatives determined to overhaul congressional procedure, as well as two other groups within the conference, a condition of running.  

“While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan’s preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our Conference in due time,” the HFC said in a statement following its vote.  

While it wasn’t enough for the group to formally endorse, Ryan determined that support from 70 percent of the HFC fulfilled his condition.  

It appears the greatest hurdle to his nomination has been eliminated.  

There were roughly a dozen Republicans who had expressed some interest in the job without Ryan in the race, though none with a clear path to a majority of the conference, let alone 218 votes in the full House.  

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, one of the HFC’s founding members, said the group is prepared to present Ryan with “a show of support,” and emphasized there was a “supermajority” in favor of Ryan for speaker.  

Labrador said he would not share the final vote tally with reporters, but said he was open to providing it to Ryan so he has an idea of how many votes he could expect to receive in conference and on the floor.  

Labrador said the “show of support” was not the same as a formal endorsement because the HFC did not meet its 80 percent threshold, as it previously did with Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. However, he suggested the Webster endorsement could now be moot, with a supermajority  prepared to back Ryan.  

Labrador said the Ryan support “takes precedent” over the Webster endorsement from two weeks ago.  

As HFC began its deliberations, Ryan was meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Upon emerging, the Wisconsin Republican told reporters he had not talked to any Freedom Caucus members since their meeting earlier in the day.  

“I’m just basically talking to my colleagues on how we unify this conference and on how we can bring it together,” Ryan said. “And if I can be that unifying figure, that’s wonderful. And if doesn’t work out that way, I’m perfectly happy where I am.”  

Ryan put the question of his speaker candidacy to his fellow lawmakers Tuesday, asking for the endorsement of three major House GOP caucuses by Friday. The conservative Republican Study Committee met with Ryan Wednesday and the moderate Tuesday Group was scheduled to sit down with him Thursday. He probably won’t have trouble getting the backing of both groups.  

Ryan’s ability to win over one of the most disagreeable groups in the House is perhaps a testament to the abilities that members say make him a strong candidate for speaker. Ryan met with the Freedom Caucus Wednesday in his ceremonial Ways and Means office in the Capitol, and over the course of an hourlong discussion, he seemed to win over many of his colleagues.  

Ryan discussed votes on an Obamacare replacement and welfare overhaul, according to a member inside the room.  

Ryan said he wouldn’t bring up an immigration overhaul without support from a majority of Republicans. Specifics about procedural changes and any changes to the motion to vacate the chair were not discussed, the member said.  

Among the HFC’s concerns, one of the most glaring issues was Ryan’s condition that the conference agrees to changing the motion to vacate the chair.  

Freedom Caucus members, some of whom used the threat of a vote on a motion to vacate the chair as a way to expedite Speaker John A. Boehner’s departure, indicated they had a big problem with that stipulation. But it wasn’t enough to preclude the support of more than two-thirds of its members. Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. Related: Democrats See Same Pitfalls for a Speaker Ryan Why Going Slow Shapes Ryan's Political Future Daniel Webster Presses Nuanced Case for Speaker Who Whispers in Paul Ryan's Ear? Freedom Caucus Resists Ryan Boehner: No Plan B if Ryan Opts Out See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.