A Speaker’s Race Stuck in Neutral

The week-long recess resolved nothing in the contest for the House’s top job.

Rep. Paul Ryan speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference on March 6, 2014, in National Harbor, Maryland. Ryan has repeatedly said he does not want to run for House speaker.
National Journal
Oct. 18, 2015, 8 p.m.

With just two weeks left un­til Speak­er John Boehner has said he will resign, House Re­pub­lic­ans re­main deeply di­vided as to who should re­place him—and wait anxiously to see wheth­er Rep. Paul Ry­an will change his mind and run.

There have been few de­vel­op­ments since Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy ab­ruptly dropped his speak­er­ship bid, and House mem­bers spent the past week in their dis­tricts while Ry­an was said to be pon­der­ing wheth­er to give in to calls from his party lead­ers and seek the cham­ber’s top po­s­i­tion. Boehner plans to step down Oct. 30 and the House floor elec­tion is still sched­uled for Oct. 29, but Boehner has said he will stay on un­til a suc­cessor is chosen.

Boehner’s of­fice said Sunday that he has still not de­cided when the con­fer­ence will hold its private speak­er­ship vote.

Ry­an has said re­peatedly he does not want to run, pre­fer­ring in­stead to raise his young fam­ily and put his nose to the grind­stone as chair­man of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. And for someone whom Re­pub­lic­ans of­ten men­tion as a fu­ture pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, there could be an­oth­er draw­back.

Pres­id­en­tial run­ner-up Mitt Rom­ney, who chose Ry­an as his run­ning mate in 2012, said Ry­an would be a top-tier GOP can­did­ate in fu­ture elec­tions, but be­com­ing speak­er would hamper that.

“We need Paul in two spots at once and, you know, there haven’t been a lot of people that have gone on from speak­er to the White House, so I’d hate to lose him as a po­ten­tial con­tender down the road for the White House,” Rom­ney said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Uni­on.

“Wheth­er it’s now for the speak­er­ship or wheth­er in­stead we see him hold on and ul­ti­mately be­come po­ten­tially a can­did­ate for pres­id­ent, I don’t know. It’s his de­cision, but I’m just glad to know him and to know we have him in our quiver,” he con­tin­ued.

Ry­an may also be reti­cent to in­sert him­self in­to the con­ten­tious en­vir­on­ment of the House GOP. Out­side com­ment­at­ors such as Mark Lev­in and Laura In­gra­ham have been ques­tion­ing his con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of his will­ing­ness to work with Demo­crats on an im­mig­ra­tion deal.

On Sunday, pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Sen. Ted Cruz de­murred when asked wheth­er he be­lieves Ry­an is truly con­ser­vat­ive. “I like Paul Ry­an. He’s a friend of mine. This is ob­vi­ously a ques­tion that is wrapped up in the speak­er of the House de­lib­er­a­tions. I have said con­sist­ently I’m gonna stay outta that,” Cruz said.

Mean­while, the House Free­dom Caucus has con­tin­ued to back Rep. Daniel Web­ster. The group wants sev­er­al rules changes they say would open up the le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess. It is not clear wheth­er Ry­an would bar­gain with them, but if he doesn’t, it is not clear that he could win.

“If we’re go­ing to elect someone pop­u­lar who doesn’t change the op­er­a­tion, noth­ing mean­ing­ful will change,” one mem­ber of the group said, speak­ing privately to dis­cuss its in­tern­al think­ing. “If it’s go­ing to be Paul without mean­ing­ful op­er­a­tion­al changes, it’s go­ing to con­tin­ue to be pain­ful.”

If Ry­an de­clines to run, the cham­ber will head in­to a chaot­ic two weeks. In ad­di­tion to Web­ster, Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz is still run­ning, but neither seems to have sig­ni­fic­ant sup­port on the con­fer­ence writ large. Oth­er mem­bers such as Reps. Bill Flores and Lynn West­mo­re­land have said they would run if Ry­an chooses not to, and bey­ond that an­oth­er roughly dozen mem­bers are said to be con­sid­er­ing en­ter­ing the race as well.

The House GOP Con­fer­ence will meet Wed­nes­day morn­ing for the first time since the break and is ex­pec­ted to dis­cuss how to move for­ward.

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