Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) left his colleagues and the rest of political Washington guessing Friday about whether he would run for speaker of the House. Ryan declined to speak at a closed-door session of the Republican caucus where lawmakers had hoped to he would offer them a leader to rally around and unite the warring factions with their ranks after weeks of turmoil.
An hour after the session broke up, an aide to the 2012 vice presidential nominee issued a statement saying that Ryan still was not ready to run for an office that would place him second in the line of succession to the presidency.
“Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker,” said Brendan Buck, Ryan’s spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee, on which he serves as chairman.
Two weeks after Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his intention to resign at the end of October, House Republicans left Washington on Friday for a 10-day break with no clear plan on who will succeed Boehner, or when a vote for a replacement will be held. When they come back, they’ll have to deal with a full plate of tricky legislation over the next two months: raising the debt ceiling, a highway bill, and a looming Dec. 11 deadline to keep the government funded.
Lawmakers exiting the Capitol basement meeting room wore looks of stunned silence, having no clear idea what would come next. A day earlier, their leading candidate, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), suddenly and shockingly withdrew from the speaker’s race just minutes before Thursday’s nomination vote was set to take place.
Lawmakers said they were hoping to coalesce around a candidate, but how quickly that happens continues to depend on Ryan’s next move.
Other Republicans floating their names for speaker mostly said they would stand down if Ryan entered the race, giving the 45-year-old lawmaker an almost unfettered path to claim the speaker’s gavel.
“He’s the consensus candidate at this point,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said after the meeting. “He’s both vetted and has the experience of chairing not one but two committees.”
Earlier Friday, Issa used two appearances on cable TV to announce he would consider running for the post. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he remains a candidate for speaker but also would support Ryan if he entered the race.
Ryan’s silence at the meeting was notable. “He’s very quiet when he needs to be,” Issa said.
Ryan has long resisted stepping into a House leadership role, with his wife and three school-age children living in Janesville, about 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee. But calls from across the Republican Party intensified in the hours after McCarthy dropped his bid, including from Boehner, who, in two separate conversations, encouraged Ryan to take the job.
“It’s a terrible responsibility when you’ve got a young family, but someone should say to Paul Ryan, the institution of the House needs your leadership. Sometimes the burden of leadership falls on you when you’re not seeking it,” said Richard Armey, the former House majority leader who founded FreedomWorks, one of the leading groups advancing tea party causes.
“If two weeks of upheaval brought us @RepPaulRyan as Speaker, well worth it,” tweeted Hugh Hewitt, the influential conservative talk show host.
McCarthy is also pushing Ryan to run and reiterated after Friday’s meeting that the Wisconsin Republican would “be an amazing speaker.” But he said Ryan will have to make up his own mind.
“No, look Paul’s got to decide on his own,” McCarthy said. “But he’s got small kids.”
Not everyone is jumping on the Ryan bandwagon. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), a Freedom Caucus member, said he remains more focused on process than personalities.
“I want to see a change in the culture of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Before we move ahead with a speaker vote, let’s address the process, let’s address the rules.”
“It’s the what, not the who,” he added.
Some conservative media outlets were also questioning Ryan’s position on immigration, because he spent much of 2013 working behind the scenes with Democrats on a potential massive overhaul of border and immigration laws. No legislation was ever produced or voted on, but some conservatives believe he was supportive of a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
Boehner had planned to leave Congress on Oct. 30, a day after a scheduled floor vote to elect a new speaker, but the outgoing speaker said Thursday he would not leave until a new speaker is chosen.
Kelsey Snell and David Weigel contributed to this report.