Ahead of the House GOP's long-awaited vote to nominate a new speaker, persistent skeptics of Rep. Paul D. Ryan appear to be warming to him as their leader
Many of the conference's most conservative hard-liners emerged from a speaker candidates' forum early Wednesday saying the Wisconsin Republican has begun to earn their respect as well as their confidence that he will usher in a more inclusive legislative era. "I think he's actually saying the things we were hoping he would say all along," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who earlier in the process was supporting Ryan's only challenger, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida.
Salmon said Ryan was committed to starting the appropriations process early, overhauling the conference rules, allowing floor debate on more amendments and bringing legislation before the full House without guarantees they can pass. The last point is a signal of Ryan's willingness to let the House truly "work its will," Salmon said.
"I'm growing more encouraged all the time," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. "Regardless of the myriad of different policy anomalies we all have among ourselves that Paul Ryan has the unique ability to create a compelling message ...[and] bring the Republican base together."
Even Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., whose motion to oust Boehner from the speakership put the gears in motion for the Ohio Republican's resignation announcement, hinted he could work with someone like Ryan should he officially win the gavel on Thursday.
"Certainly Paul has done a very good job of trying to address some of the concerns that many of us had, where we felt like our voice has not been heard," Meadows told reporters on Wednesday, "and he has committed both in private and in public of supporting those concerns."
Meadows said he had made a commitment to vote for Webster in the conference's secret ballot nominating election on Wednesday afternoon, but wouldn't say whether he would throw his support behind Ryan on the House floor.
Ever since it seemed likely Ryan would enter the race to succeed retiring Speaker John A. Boehner, far-right advocacy groups on and off Capitol Hill have derided the current Ways and Means chairman as too cozy with mainstream, "establishment" Republicans, and challenged lawmakers in Congress not to be seduced by his star power.
Many of these members have stayed true to their base, such as Rep. Walter B. Jones. The North Carolinian said constituents are calling his office to express opposition to a Ryan speakership and to a two-year budget deal the House will consider later Wednesday that Ryan is now supporting.
Jones said he was especially irked by Ryan's reference at the candidates forum to "K Street," the synonym for the Washington lobbyist community. He told reporters he leaned over to Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and murmured, "what about Main Street?"
To Jones' point, lobbyists seem to be welcoming incoming Speaker Ryan as a visionary for a younger generation of Republicans.
"Democrats are sitting there with ... most of their leaders in their mid-70s or approaching," said Sam Geduldig, a former House GOP leadership aide who is now a lobbyist. "They’ve skipped an entire generation of new leaders, and we’ve got this youthful conservative, well-spoken leader of the House."
On Wednesday, Massie reiterated his opposition to Ryan and support for Webster, saying the Florida lawmaker's remarks at the candidates forum were among his most effective.
Salmon, meanwhile, said it was notable that Webster left before the question-and-answer session while Ryan stayed behind and engaged in a robust back-and-forth with his colleagues.
But Massie said not to write off Webster: “I will say I think I know about 12 people that are going to vote for Webster on the floor. Of course different things can happen between now and then. There may be more than that that I don’t know.”