Updated 10:03 p.m. | Paul D. Ryan needs convincing the GOP conference has his back — and he’s given lawmakers a Friday deadline to persuade him to take the speaker’s job.
The Wisconsin Republican told colleagues he will run for speaker if he can win broad support from the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the centrist Tuesday Group.
At a news conference late Tuesday, Ryan reiterated he would only serve as speaker if he could be a unifier, and if he could show Americans government doesn’t have to be the problem.
“If my colleagues entrust me to be the speaker, I want us to become the solution,” Ryan said.
The Ways and Means chairman addressed his GOP colleagues at a special conference meeting, finally moving off his long-held position that he wants nothing to do with the speakership.
Inside the closed-door meeting, Ryan “did not announce a final decision on the speakership, but he did discuss what’s necessary, in his view, for the next speaker to be successful,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in an email to reporters.
Sources close to Ryan told CQ Roll Call the lawmaker had been re-evaluating his position on the House’s top job ever since Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy unexpectedly dropped out of the race on Oct. 8, just as the Californian was poised to win the conference’s nomination.
Absent a clear successor to lead the conference, a number of Republicans had pushed Ryan to run for the spot, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who dropped out shortly after Ryan spoke Tuesday night.
RSC Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, said he supports Ryan for speaker and plans to ask the RSC to endorse him at its weekly lunch Wednesday. Flores wouldn’t comment on whether he would back his home-state colleague Kevin Brady to chair Ways and Means, but admitted, “It would be great for Texas.” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, has already expressed interest in the position.
One of the Tuesday Group chairmen, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, said he expects most of the group’s more mainstream members to support Ryan, but suggested it could depend on whether Ryan is willing to cave to conservatives. “I wouldn’t agree to anything that would weaken the speaker’s position if I were running for speaker,” he said. “I wouldn’t make any concessions.”
Speaker John A. Boehner told Fox News, one hour before House Republicans huddled in the basement of the Capitol, that “Paul would be a great speaker.”
Boehner said Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, “has the skills to do the job and I also think he has the credentials to reach out to traditional conservative organizations to help bridge the gap that we have in the House today.”
Mitt Romney, Ryan's mentor, had also endorsed his running mate for the job after McCarthy’s exit from the race two weeks ago.
The current political environment in the House GOP is Ryan’s biggest hurdle, and that goalpost might be impossible for anybody. Boehner told Fox News he believed Ryan could be the consensus builder the conference has been seeking.
Ryan’s four conditions to take the speakership are:
- The GOP moves from an opposition party to a proposition party.
- Update House rules so everyone can be a more effective representative.
- Unify as a conference now, not after a divisive speaker election.
- Avoid giving up time with his family.
The biggest challenge of all will be contending with the roughly 40-member House Freedom Caucus and its procedural demands, as well as maybe another half-dozen hard-line conservatives who have expressed concern with some of Ryan’s past support for comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation and Trade Promotion Authority.
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, a Freedom Caucus member, called adjusting rules associated with the motion to vacate the chair a “non-starter.” He said he didn’t think the idea would receive support from even 20 percent of the caucus, let alone 80 percent, as required in HFC bylaws.
Before his remarks Tuesday, Ryan began a formal process of putting out fires. He met with members of the HFC — at the group’s request — to discuss the position.
A Ryan spokesman played down the significance of that meeting: “He’s always willing to talk with his colleagues,” Doug Andres said.
“All we were really talking about is how to have great unity within the GOP party,” said HFC member Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
That willingness could potentially allay HFC member concerns. The Freedom Caucus is pushing for House rules changes that would empower rank-and-file lawmakers and disrupt some of the top-down management it says has been a mainstay of Boehner’s speakership. The HFC has thus far endorsed Florida Rep. Daniel Webster for speaker because of his pledge to run a more inclusive leadership operation.
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., told reporters Ryan would have to offer some assurances that he would work with the HFC in order to win his vote: “Why else would you go any further with him? I don’t want somebody in there who doesn’t want the job.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., emerged from the HFC meeting still cool to a Ryan candidacy.
“Paul’s got a lot of selling to do and it’s not a given that he’s gonna win this group. It’s not a given that he’s got my vote,” Duncan told CQ Roll Call. “This understanding that we have this aristocracy where the prince becomes a king or somebody who’s been in past leadership is going to ascend to power is just the wrong way to approach this.”
Iowa Republican Steve King said Ryan gave an excellent speech to the conference but did not address “serious rule changes” needed to make Congress run from the bottom up. “I think that is going to be a necessity for conservatives if they are going to come together for any kind of consensus,” King said.
Still, if Ryan’s standard for taking the job is truly unanimous support, or even near-unanimous support, of the GOP’s 247-member caucus there could ultimately be a lot of unhappy Ryan supporters.
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