Rep. Paul Ryan’s potential ascension to speaker of the House of Representatives overcame a significant hurdle Wednesday night when a majority of the conservative House Freedom Caucus voted to support his candidacy.
The Wisconsin Republican said he wouldn’t seek the speakership unless his House GOP colleagues, including the sometimes rebellious Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee, rallied around his candidacy and met other conditions.
Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, met with the caucus Wednesday afternoon. Afterwards, the group’s 40 or so members voted whether or not to back him.
“A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan’s bid to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives,” the caucus said in a statement Wednesday night. “While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan’s preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved in time.”
It was unclear following their sit-down earlier Wednesday whether Ryan had succeeded in placating the hard-line members of the caucus, a faction within the House GOP which grown increasingly restive over what it sees as its leadership enabling the policies of the Democrats and President Barack Obama. Caucus members champion a fiercely no-compromise approach.
Ryan had set out conditions for him taking the post on Tuesday. He demanded party unity before he formally enters the race to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner, the House’s 247-member Republican conference met, pondered, and discussed his terms and whether they could agree to them.
Ryan gave Republicans until Friday to make up their minds. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House Republican conference will choose its nominee for speaker on Oct. 28 and the full 435-member House will vote Oct. 29.
The Freedom Caucus played major roles in Boehner’s decision to retire from Congress and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s sudden decision to withdraw from the race to succeed Boehner, thus opening the door for the seemingly reluctant Ryan.
The 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee has made no secret about his preference to remain at the helm of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee over a post that is next in line for presidency behind the vice president.
I think when he went from, ‘I don’t want it’ and ‘I won’t take it’ to ‘I don’t want it, but I might take it under certain terms and conditions,’ the preface to both of those statements is still, ‘I don’t want it.’"
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C
"I think when he went from, ‘I don’t want it,’ and ‘I won’t take it’ to ‘I don’t want it, but I might take it under certain terms and conditions,’ the preface to both of those statements is still, ‘I don’t want it,’" said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., a Freedom Caucus member. "Well, it’s one of the questions we’re going to ask, which is ‘Paul do you really want the job?’"
In addition to party unity, Ryan told House Republicans that he wants a change in the process that allows a House member to file a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, a procedural tool that can be used to oust a speaker.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., filed such a motion against Boehner in late July. The measure now rests in the House Rules Committee.
Ryan also informed GOP lawmakers that he would limit his time on the road raising campaign money for his colleagues to spend time with his family. Boehner was a prolific fundraiser for his party, traveling from district to district for events on weekends and during congressional recesses.
While many rank-and-file Republicans were hopeful Wednesday that they could rally around Ryan, several lawmakers and outside groups were skeptical about his demands.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a Freedom Caucus member who supports a Ryan speakership, said fellow caucus members are having a hard time with Ryan’s call for a change to the process for the motion to vacate the chair.
"That seems to be the biggest sticking point within the conference," Sanford said. "It’s roughly a 200 year-old tradition, and I think just from an institutional standpoint, a lot of members would say, ‘Wait a minute. Why would we give to anybody a new institutional privilege that hasn’t been afforded other speakers for the last 200 years?’ I think that’s a legitimate point."
Sanford said the motion has now "become in essence a weapon."
"It’s been pulled out of the closet and it may be used again," he said.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said some of his members also struggled with Ryan’s request about the motion.
"He said we need to revisit how the process works," Flores said. "Some people supported that, some people were less supportive."
Speaker Boehner has resigned because of the revolt against his heavy-handed speakership. Congressman Ryan has made clear that he's willing to be speaker if we give him even more authority...I will not be able to support him for speaker.--
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas
Mulvaney and Sanford said the Freedom Caucus was sticking with their backing of Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. – who they endorsed over McCarthy for speaker – at least for now.
Sanford said there has been discussion within the Freedom Caucus about the Webster endorsement. When asked about the tone of the talks, Sanford said "that depends on which side of the argument you’re on."
Several outside conservative groups and pundits – who already were complaining about Ryan for his support for the TARP Wall Street bailout, the No Child Left Behind education law, and his role in negotiating a budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. – launched new broadsides against him.
The Tea Party Patriots released a YouTube video titled "Choose Wisely" that contains portions critical of the current House Republican leadership. It includes a snippet of what appears to be Ryan speaking on the House floor talking about voting for the Wall Street bailout.
Conservative talk radio hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin took to Twitter to blast Ryan.
"NOT SO FAST! Paul Ryan an amnesty advocate, along with his buddy Luis Gutierrez," Levin tweeted, referring to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL., an advocate for comprehensive immigration legislation.
"Ryan’s Despotic Demands: As speaker, he won’t work weekends or campaign for Republicans-no wonder Dems are happy," Ingraham tweeted.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, which was critical of Boehner’s leadership and McCarthy’s aborted candidacy for speaker, offered a tepid response to a potential Ryan speakership – with a warning.
"Regardless of who the next Speaker of the House is, we will hold them accountable," Ken Cuccinelli, the fund’s president and a former Virginia attorney general said in a statement. "But if they continue to break the promises made to voters and continue to cut deals with the Democrats to enact their liberal agenda, we will do everything we can to expose them."
Maria Recio and Lindsay Wise contributed.