The Republican race for House speaker has ground to a halt as all eyes focus on one potential candidate: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).
Since the expected front-runner — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) — stunned Washington and announced that he would drop out of the race, major Republican Party figures have been virtually begging Ryan to step up and take the position, citing Ryan’s potential ability to unify an increasingly fractured caucus.
McCarthy was long the favourite to replace current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). But it became increasingly clear that McCarthy would not have the support of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of more hard-line conservative lawmakers who have banded together to block Republicans from making concessions to Democrats on key pieces of legislation.
Following his decision to drop out of the race, McCarthy almost instantly began prodding Ryan. Boehner, meanwhile, moved quickly to meet with Ryan, reportedly urging him to “step up” and take the position.
National Republican leaders also threw their weight behind Ryan.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a former 2016 presidential candidate, tweeted his support for Ryan, citing Ryan’s past decisions to forego leadership positions in favour of policy-making roles.
Paul Ryan went to Washington to DO something great not to BE something great. That’s why he’d make a fine Speaker of the House.
— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) October 9, 2015
But the full-court press demonstrates perhaps the biggest problem of the speaker race: Ryan doesn’t seem to want the job.
The 45-year-old chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee has repeatedly rebuffed attempts to draw him into the House leadership apparatus, staying put during a leadership shuffle last year after former House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) lost his primary to a conservative challenger.
And less than an hour after McCarthy’s exit from the race, Ryan released a statement again denying his interest in the position.
“While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate,” Ryan said in a statement. “I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”
Again Friday morning, Ryan’s office released another statement curtailing his interest in the position.
“Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for Speaker,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement Friday morning.
Some observers attribute this to his desire to spend time with his family — being speaker isn’t very conducive to that — and a dislike of the speaker’s intense fundraising schedule.
But others note that Ryan could be playing a long game to achieve other goals beyond party leadership.
Ryan has been particularly vocal about playing a major role in reforming the tax code, a goal he could have a good chance of achieving if a Republican is elected to the White House in 2016. And there’s always the chance that Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, could seek a White House bid himself.
But with few clear alternatives in mind, the pressure may be too much for Ryan to resist.
Though he did not speak at a party caucus meeting on Friday, CNN and other outlets reported that Ryan is now considering running for speaker. Even some of Ryan’s potential rivals for the speakership have said that they would support his bid.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told reporters on Friday that he would “absolutely” not run against Ryan if he decides to jump in the race. And Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) said that he’ll only consider running if Ryan gets out, and that he already met with Ryan to urge him to run.
“If he doesn’t run, I’ll ask him to reconsider,” Issa repeated twice while walking briskly past reporters.
But even as allies heaped praise on Ryan, there were reminders on Friday that he’ll still have to wrangle an increasingly fractured caucus.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a member of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters that although he respected Ryan, he could not support him because of the congressman’s support for the 2008 bailout of the financial industry, a bipartisan move that was opposed by some arch-conservatives.
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