House Republicans return to the Capitol Tuesday with a set of questions and challenges. The most glaring among them remains: Who will lead them?
Speaker John A. Boehner has made it clear he will stay, if needed, beyond his scheduled resignation date at the end of the month. Whether that is necessary should become clear this week. Republicans are holding their regularly scheduled first meeting of the week at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the morning after the first votes. But House leadership announced Monday afternoon a special GOP conference meeting for Tuesday at 7 p.m., which means Paul D. Ryan's pending decision about whether to accept the numerous calls he run for speaker may need to be answered first.
There are roughly a dozen Republicans who have expressed some interest in the speakership. But they are all awaiting word from the Wisconsin Republican, whose immediate response to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulling out of the race was to say he had no interest .
If Ryan does, as expected, say he will only take the job with near-unanimous support, and if conservatives do, as expected, demand some procedural concessions from Ryan, the question will come back to the Ways and Means chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee: How much opposition would he be willing to put up with and still seek the post?
A race without Ryan is one with no clear favorite. Either way, everything is in flux, and if the last time Republicans met to elect a speaker is any indication, Boehner is more than willing to delay the election until the conference is ready.
A Boehner aide told CQ Roll Call Monday that lawmakers should still expect the House floor vote for speaker to occur on Oct. 29, as previously scheduled — but it is clear that could change. There is no sense yet of when Boehner might announce a date for the House GOP to attempt for a second time to nominate a speaker candidate.
In sticking to the Oct. 29 timetable for now, Boehner seems to be holding out hope he can resign and leave Congress as planned at the end of next week. The Ohio Republican has already pledged to stay in office for as long as it takes members to pick a successor. And that may take a while, particularly if Ryan passes on the job.
As Republicans sort out their leadership issues, there are plenty of moving pieces: the much-anticipated Thursday arrival of Hillary Rodham Clinton on Capitol Hill to testify before the Benghazi Committee; the looming possibility of a bill to raise the debt ceiling; and a reconciliation bill that would defund Planned Parenthood expected Friday.
On top of those legislative and messaging opportunities, the House Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group hope to meet sometime this week, according to sources with knowledge of the arrangement. An HFC member told CQ Roll Call that some of the founding members of the conservative Freedom Caucus requested a meeting with the moderate Tuesday Group leaders.
One source said they are expected to discuss "the speaker's race and governance," among other topics. That a meeting should take place between the newly formed conservative contingent and the longstanding organization of House GOP moderates is perhaps a sign there is interest in bridging ideological divides that have resulted in ugly accusations and name-calling.
Still, outside groups are continuing to stoke the fire of conservatives by demanding a speaker who represents their values.
On Monday afternoon, Heritage Action for America spokesman Dan Holler accused Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a Tuesday Group leader, of advocating for "#SpeakerPelosi" as a way to achieve a "#TraditionalConservative agenda."
Dent responded: "Contemptible lie. I support a #RepublicanSpeaker. I support Paul Ryan. Do you? #nocredibility"
Dent could be a consensus candidate for Democrats to rally behind. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said over the weekend she was open to the idea of a coalition speaker, should there be no path for a Republican to win 218 GOP votes. She refused to say who specifically Democrats have discussed supporting, and acknowledged the political toxicity that such a coalition speaker could face.
But that possibility is a long shot, particularly considering the concessions Pelosi would want in return, such as a comprehensive immigration overhaul and a background checks bill for gun purchases.
The White House offered Monday a small preview of what a Ryan speakership might mean to a Barack Obama presidency. While Ryan ran on the ticket opposite Obama in the last presidential election, the two lawmakers have found ways to work together the past three years, Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed out.
The passage this summer of fast-track Trade Promotion Authority, Earnest said, was a prime example of how "the administration was able to work effectively with a range of leading Republicans to pursue a legitimately bipartisan goal."
Earnest also made clear that while Obama respects Ryan, "the president has profound and occasionally vigorous disagreements with him on fiscal issues and presumably other things, too."
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