Rep. Paul Ryan told House Republicans Tuesday night that he’s willing to run for speaker if the chamber’s entire GOP conference – including some often rebellious groups – rally behind him.
Ryan, R-Wis., laid out his conditions for the nomination to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee gave his colleagues until Friday to determine whether they all can abide by his terms.
"What I told the members is, if you can agree to these requests, and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve,” Ryan said in a statement. “And, if I am not unifying, that is fine as well. I will be happy to stay where am, at the Ways and Means Committee.”
The Freedom Caucus, which has about 40 members, played major roles in Boehner’s decision to retire from Congress and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s sudden withdrawal from the speaker’s race. Ryan met with the Freedom Caucus before the Republican conference gathering.
“He said he wants everyone to buy into it before he buys into it,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said after Tuesday night’s conference meeting. “He said basically he’s willing to take arrows in the chest, but not in the back.”
McCarthy dropped out of the speaker’s race after the Freedom Caucus pledged its support to Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., stating that a McCarthy speakership wouldn’t be different from Boehner’s. Ryan’s announcement Tuesday prompted Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to abandon his long-shot bid for speaker. In a tweet, Chaffetz called Ryan the “Right person at the right time.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a Freedom Caucus member, said the group was sticking by its Webster endorsement.
"I think we’re open to a lot of things, but the important thing is that we still are supporting Daniel Webster," Labrador said on MSNBC’s "Andrea Mitchell Reports." "He has promised that he’s going to change the culture of the House. He’s been a successful speaker of the House in Florida. He was a successful majority leader of the Senate in Florida. And he knows what we need to do here in Washington, D.C., so we can come together as Republicans and Democrats."
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., another Freedom Caucus member, said after the meeting that Ryan is qualified to be speaker. But he hedged on whether the conservative group would switch its support.
“The way the Freedom Caucus operates is by unanimous bloc,” Sanford said. “What I would say is I think...Ryan throwing, is going to cause much discussion on that very point.”
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a Republican Study Group member, said he’s backing Ryan.
“I feel he’s a unifying person, a very bright person, we know that he’s a very positive person and I want a positive message,” Wilson said.
House Republican leaders – including Boehner and McCarthy – have implored Ryan to seek the speaker’s gavel. But Ryan but repeatedly resisted. When Congress went home for a Columbus Day week-long break, Ryan contemplated what it would take for him to seek the job.
In addition to demanding party unity, Ryan told Republican House members that he wouldn’t spend as much time on the road as previous speakers, citing his desire to spend as much time at home in Janesville, Wis., with his family.
”But I pledged to make up for it with more time communicating our message,” Ryan said.
As Boehner can attest, whoever replaces him inherits a deeply-divided caucus split between conservatives and tea party-backed lawmakers who want a House GOP leadership that they feel will stand up to Democrats and President Barack Obama. The tension inside the caucus pitted so-called establishment Republicans who have no qualms about negotiating with Democrats and the White House and the hardline conservatives who have rejected compromise.
While Ryan deliberated at home, the number of Republicans reportedly interested in being speaker mushroomed. In addition to the declared Webster, potential candidates included Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.; Texans Bill Flores; Mike Conway; Pete Sessions; and Mike McCaul; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.
Ryan received a surprising endorsement Tuesday – from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"I'm a Paul Ryan fan. I don't agree with him on much of what he does," Reid told reporters Tuesday. "I think what he's done with Medicare and Medicaid, what he's wanted to do, I disagree with. But generally speaking...we've been able to work with him…"
That sort of endorsement sounds like fingernails on a blackboard to some conservatives on and off Capitol Hill. Several talk radio hosts and conservative groups have panned a potential Ryan speakership, saying it wouldn’t be any different than political life under Boehner.
They balk at Ryan’s role in negotiating a 2013 budget agreement with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that provided relief from the mandatory automatic federal budget cuts known as the sequester; for his support of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out troubled Wall Street financial institutions; and his backing of the 2001 No Child Left Behind education law.
"What’s at least as offensive as his voting record is his reported attitude toward the job,” Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, wrote in an op-ed article in Politico Tuesday. “Media accounts indicate he’ll only consider taking it if he has to make no promises to any of his colleagues about how he would run the House and can be elected by acclamation."