Wisconsin Republican Paul D. Ryan’s re-election Tuesday as speaker of the House came as no surprise. What did was that he received fewer defections from members of his often divided party than Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California did from hers.
Ryan was elected speaker for the 2017-2018 congressional term with 239 Republican votes. Pelosi received 189 Democratic votes. One Republican did not vote for Ryan, while four Democrats did not vote for Pelosi.
Pelosi losing four votes does not signal a rift in the Democratic caucus the way past speaker votes have highlighted the divide between far-right conservatives and other House Republicans. But the vote does show the GOP becoming more united after their sweep of the November elections, while chinks start to form in the Democratic caucus.
“The stranglehold that this leadership team has ... is preventing young — and I don’t mean ‘age young,’ I mean people who got here 2, 4, 6 years ago — who want to participate more,” said Pelosi defector Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York. “It’s blocked people out, and I think that is stunting not just people moving up the ladder here but also getting people the experience they need to build a bench.”
“It’s important to not be hypocritical,” Rice said of her decision to vote for the Ohio Democrat. “I was very vocal about needing a change in leadership. I did it during private vote in caucus and I was not going to change my vote just because I had to do it openly and in public.”
Cooper, a co-chair of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, typically does not vote for Pelosi during the speaker vote.
Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, chairman emeritus of the moderate New Democrats, also did not vote for Pelosi. He cast his vote for Cooper.
“Jim Cooper is probably one of the most decent, pragmatic members that we have here,” Kind said.
The Badger State Democrat cited his party's recent election performances as reason enough to shake things up. “Why not a different approach? Especially someone who’s been here a little bit and has also fostered a lot of good working relationships across the aisle, as Jim has.”
Like Rice, Kind wants to see opportunities for other members. He stepped down as chair of the New Democrats and has advocated for term limits for committee chairmen like Republicans have instituted. “It’s important to keep the blood circulating around here, especially in a place like this, just to show a path forward for some of the newer, younger members.”
Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema voted for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, as she always has in past speaker elections. Sinema, who has previously said Pelosi’s strategy for the caucus has not helped Democrats win elections, cited Lewis’s experience as Civil Rights leader as the reason he should lead the House Democrats.
Webster ran against Ryan in 2015, earning 43 votes during the closed-door Republican conference speaker election and nine votes during the floor election, but he voted for Ryan on Tuesday. Ryan did not vote.
“Fortunately for Paul Ryan, Donald Trump won,” Massie said. “It would be a totally different outcome here today otherwise.”
Massie said his opposition to Ryan comes primarily from the failure to live up to his promise to restore regular order, especially in the appropriations process.
“I said last year this time if he could pass six of the 12 appropriations bills and conference them with the Senate, that’s an A. If he can do three, that’s a B. If we’re sitting here in December a year from now and we have an omnibus, that’s an F minus. And well, he got an F minus.”
Republicans are buoyed by unified government on Capitol Hill and at the White House, with Trump awaiting his inauguration on Jan. 20. For the 115th Congress, Ryan will lead a House with 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats. Republicans last had control of both chambers and the White House from 2003 to 2007.
“I want to say to the American people: We hear you. We will do right by you. And we will deliver,” Ryan said in a floor speech after his re-election.
The 46-year-old speaker is now in his 10th term representing Wisconsin’s 1st District. As a leader of the party establishment, Ryan is expected to be challenged by hard-line conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus and likely would have had his speakership targeted had Trump lost the presidential election.
Ryan was first elected House speaker in October 2015 following the resignation of John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Simone Pathé contributed to this report.