Two twists emerged Friday in the leadership race to replace retiring Speaker Paul D. Ryan. House Freedom Caucus founding member Jim Jordan said he’d consider a run while Ryan endorsed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
“There is no speaker’s race right now,” Jordan told reporters. “Paul Ryan is the speaker. If and when there is, I’ve been urged by colleagues to consider that and I am definitely open to that. Right now though the focus has got to be on the next six months, us keeping the majority.”
Jordan is a tactical politician. His move is not about actually believing he could win a speaker’s race.
The Ohio Republican opted against a bid to chair the Oversight Committee last year because he knew he couldn’t get the support of the 32-member Republican Steering Committee that selects committee leaders and members. To think he could get the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker is a stretch — one Jordan probably doesn’t believe.
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Jordan was seen entering Ryan’s office Friday afternoon, just hours after the news of his potential candidacy broke.
His showing interest sends a message from the Freedom Caucus to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the leading but still undeclared candidate to replace Ryan, that he doesn’t yet have the support needed to win either.
Freedom Caucus members blocked McCarthy from getting the votes needed to ascend to speaker in 2015 after they helped push former Speaker John A. Boehner to resign.
Ryan became the consensus candidate at that time but now there’s no clear successor waiting in the wings. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise declined to run against McCarthy but is trying to build support should he falter.
Ryan declared Thursday that Scalise said he wants McCarthy to succeed him. And on Friday Ryan officially endorsed McCarthy.
“We all think that Kevin is the right person,” the speaker told NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. Ryan said he was referring to the GOP leadership team, including Scalise.
Scalise had a different account of his conversation with Ryan.
“What I told Paul is what I’ve been saying, [which] is look, first of all I’m not running against Kevin, but none of us should be worried about running for anything because we’ve got to be focused on our agenda and keeping the majority,” the Louisiana Republican said Friday. “Because if we don’t keep the majority all this other talk of titles is irrelevant.”
Asked if that means he supports McCarthy, Scalise still hedged, “I know people want to nuance everything. What I’ve said is I’m not running against him. But there’s no race. We are not running for offices right now. We’re focused on our agenda.”
Scalise is keeping his options open, but other GOP leaders are aligning with McCarthy and seem to be urging Scalise to do the same.
“Steve and I have announced that we’re supporting Kevin and we’re all on the same page on this,” Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry said.
McHenry’s name had been floated Wednesday after Ryan announced his retirement as a possible dark horse candidate. The North Carolina Republican laughed at the notion when asked about it Friday.
It’s a different environment than what McCarthy faced in his 2015 speaker bid, Ryan said.
“This leadership team has come together and gelled, this conference has been unified, and we’ve actually moved the ball and gotten things done,” he said. “I really do envision a more seamless transition, versus say the time when I came in.”