Rep. Paul Ryan won over most of the members of a key conservative caucus Wednesday night as he tried to stitch together enough support to become the next House speaker, amid ongoing concerns about his list of demands and worries that his need to be drafted into the job does not bode well for someone filling Congress’ top constitutional post.
The House Freedom Caucus, which was a major part of the maneuvers that pushed Speaker John A. Boehner to announce his retirement, met with Mr. Ryan and then took a vote in which about two-thirds said they would back him when the time comes next week.
It’s short of the number needed for an official endorsement by the caucus, but it helps Mr. Ryan get closer to the 218 votes of support he will need when the full House votes Oct. 29 to replace Mr. Boehner.
“We can support him and we want him to be successful, but we want to make sure also he understands this is not about crowning a king; this is about working together and making sure every member feels that they’re empowered,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, Idaho Republican and chief of the Freedom Caucus.
He said they remain wary of some of the demands Mr. Ryan has listed as preconditions for him to take the job, including demanding unity of purpose from his fellow Republicans and proposing changes to make it tougher to oust the next speaker in the middle of a session of Congress.
Those remain a sticking point, Mr. Labrador said, but he insisted there are already moves afoot to change House procedures to give rank-and-file members more influence in legislation, and those will continue no matter what happens in the speaker’s race.
He said it will be up to Mr. Ryan to decide if he can accept the job without winning all of those demands.
Mr. Ryan was also seeking support from the Republican Study Committee, another conservative caucus, and a group of moderates. After the Freedom Caucus announcement he said he was encouraged in his bid.
“I’m grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus. I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement.
Mr. Ryan met with various factions of the House GOP Wednesday to talk over his candidacy and his demands, and the meetings were very much an audition for the rising party star.
Emerging from one get-together, he brushed aside questions about whether he will earn endorsements from key caucuses, saying only that his talk went well.
“We had a nice meeting. A good chat with my colleagues,” he said.
Mr. Ryan’s bid to change the rule on ousting the speaker midway through the year met with particular resistance, as Mr. Labrador and others called it a non-starter.
Members later said they would be open to tweaks, such as raising the threshold needed to boot the speaker, but they were unwilling to nix a parliamentary procedure that’s been a part of the House since Thomas Jefferson codified the rules.
“There’s a bunch of different things you can do short of just getting rid of it,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina Republican, said. “I like Paul, but Thomas Jefferson wrote the rule, and I like him a lot better.”
The speaker’s job opened up after Mr. Boehner announced he was retiring, effective at the end of October. He’s since said that if needed, he’ll stay until a successor is chosen, but says he expects his party to unify around a candidate this month.
The House GOP has been struggling to fill his shoes, with general consensus that Mr. Ryan is the best man for the job.
Mr. Boehner said the GOP will hold an internal vote next Wednesday to select their replacement, and then the whole House will vote Thursday to confirm Congress’s top constitutional office.
“I think Paul is going to get the support that he is looking for,” Mr. Boehner told reporters, adding he laid out “a very clear vision” of how he would lead. “I thought the members responded very well to it.”
Mr. Ryan had repeatedly refused the speakership post over the last three weeks, citing family commitments and his current dream job as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. But he reversed himself on Tuesday and told Republicans he would take the job, but only if he didn’t have to keep up the hectic fundraising schedule of past speakers, and if GOP lawmakers would agree to forgo some of the intraparty warfare that’s plagued them.
The set of demands, and begging out of fundraising duties, left some conservatives questioning Mr. Ryan’s commitment.
“If you listen to Paul, it appears [he’s saying] ‘I don’t want the job,’” Mr. Mulvaney said.
As the GOP very publicly debates its future, Democrats are waiting in the wings, toggling between delight at the GOP’s strife and fears the disarray will upend a series of autumn decisions on raising the nation’s debt limit, funding highway projects and keeping the government open past Dec. 11.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, backed Mr. Ryan for the job on Tuesday, though Republican Sen. John McCain said he would not presume to tell the House what to do, though he supports a Paul Ryan speakership, and is concerned the 2012 vice presidential candidate will not be able to win the support of the House’s more conservative caucuses.
“Our friends in the House, even though they’re in the same party, are very sensitive to us telling them what to do,” he said.
Meanwhile, a top House Democrat said his party won’t stick its beak into a GOP problem by manipulating next week’s floor vote.
“This is a Republican decision that’s to be made by them,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said. “There’s been no discussion on our side about supporting Paul Ryan or anyone else.”
In the meantime, Mr. Hoyer said Democrats aren’t sure who speaks for their political rivals.
“I couldn’t tell you who the voice of the Republican Party is at this time,” he said. “I don’t think anybody else could, either.”
Rep. Daniel Webster, Florida Republican, remains the only announced opponent to Mr. Ryan at this point.
The Freedom Caucus had earlier endorsed Mr. Webster when he was running against Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and because the caucus was unable to get the 80 percent vote needed for an endorsement of Mr. Ryan Wednesday, the Webster endorsement remains in effect — even though it’s likely most members will vote for Mr. Ryan instead.
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