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House GOP Regroups, Still With No Endgame in Sight

Ryan leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans described the mood as "good" inside the closed-door members' meeting Friday morning — despite the fact that less than 24 hours earlier, lawmakers were reportedly in tears over the news that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was withdrawing from the race for speaker.  

"Heh heh!" Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, trilled when asked whether he thought the uncertainty over the leadership vacuum in conference would be resolved by close of business Friday, when the House adjourns for a weeklong recess. After a day of chaos, there was reassurance that Speaker John A. Boehner had pledged to maintain his hold on the gavel for as long as it takes for members to select a successor.  

"[Boehner] said he prayed a lot," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told reporters.  

Momentum also appears to be growing around the large-scale effort to draft Ways and Means Chairman and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to serve in the No. 1 House GOP leadership slot.  

Ryan has consistently said he isn't seeking the job — he left Friday's meeting telling reporters he had "nothing more to add" — and members said he didn't speak up inside the conference regarding his potential candidacy.  

"Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he's getting from his colleagues but is still not running for Speaker," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement Friday.  

Still, sources say the pleading from colleagues might ultimately be too great to ignore, with Republicans on and off Capitol Hill insisting he's the only viable option given McCarthy's decision to step aside. Even Rep. Jason Chaffetz said he would drop his bid for speaker if Ryan decided to run: "If Paul Ryan gets in the race, of course I would support him."  

Dozens of House Republicans across the ideological spectrum expressed confidence Ryan would provide the necessary leadership to bridge divides inside a deeply fractured conference — his establishment ties and institutional sentimentalism lend him credibility, but his staunch fiscal conservatism makes him a friend to the far right.  

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., one of the HFC members who led the charge to depose Boehner before the Ohio Republican announced he would resign at the end of this month, said he had good feelings about Ryan: "I don't want to speak for anybody else, but he certainly has always been one that is open to having a good, rigorous debate."  

But there is still no guarantee Ryan would be able to succeed in giving everybody want they want, especially the 40 or so members of the House Freedom Caucus, which has endorsed another speaker candidate, rank-and-file Florida Rep. Daniel Webster.  

In an interview with NPR early Friday, HFC member David Schweikert, R-Ariz., said Ryan would only get his group's support if he embraces its demand for great participation by conservatives in policy and legislation. In particular, Schweikert said, any new speaker must promise not to use the Rules Committee to stifle consideration of conservative amendments on the House floor.  

Conservatives have been urging candidates to promise to decentralize the speaker's power over the Steering Committee, which sets committee assignments. The HFC and other hard-liners have also asked speaker candidates to submit to a variety of ideological purity tests relating to raising the debt limit, impeaching the IRS commissioner and putting all 12 appropriations bills on the floor under open rules.  

Meanwhile, the same conservative outside groups that were griping Thursday over the possibility of a future "Speaker McBoehner" let it be known on Friday they didn't think Ryan would be much better.  

"Paul Ryan is the Absolute Worst Choice For Speaker," the Conservative Review declared in the headline of an epic takedown of the lawmaker, who author Daniel Horowitz said "used his leverage and respect to sabotage conservatives on every last budget fight of our time."  

Ryan might not be willing to cater to those demands or submit to a litmus test, especially if he's reluctant to serve as speaker in the first place.  

There are also members who don't believe Ryan is the panacea, and what needs to happen before a speaker gets elected is a massive overhaul of the conference rules.  

"I'm of the course that I want to see a change of the culture of Washington, D.C.," said freshman Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., also a member of the HFC. "I think the way you do that is not who you elect, it's the process, it's the procedure."  

Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Policy Chairman Luke Messer of Indiana held a meeting open to all members on Wednesday to start discussions about how lawmakers envisioned a more open, inclusive political environment. Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, told reporters Friday morning he would lend a hand in that effort.  

That exercise could be a painful one, though, with many different ideas about how to maintain a sense of structure and order while also giving more members a voice in the legislative process.  

Other speaker candidates, albeit long shots, are also emerging to complicate the pool — Reps. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia and Darrell Issa of California for the time being.  

And members are still holding grudges that could make it more challenging for the conference to come back together.  

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., one of two members to resign from the HFC in the course of a few weeks over disagreements with the group's hard-line strategy, blamed his former allies for creating chaos.  

"Everything that they've promised to accomplish — they've not only failed to advance conservative principles, they have become an active obstruction to achieving those principles," he said.  

According to a source in the room Friday morning, Boehner urged his members to try and keep it together.  

"Don’t start erecting walls between us as members. We all came here to help advance the conservative cause," he said. "I hope the discussion today can focus on how best we can work together to do that. To truly listen to each other. Not speak for the sake of hearing your own voice. But to truly listen to each other and have an open mind about how we can come together. ... It’s up to the people in this room to listen to each other, come together, and figure this out."  

Matt Fuller, Warren Rojas, Ellyn Ferguson and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report

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