That decision is not likely to be announced at the evening meeting, Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said Tuesday.
Ryan is more likely to begin laying out his vision for the House GOP and terms under which he would assume the speaker’s post — putting the onus on his colleagues to coalesce behind him rather than force the Wisconsin Republican to campaign for a job he has long said he does not want. William J. Bennett, a mentor to Ryan who has spoken with him in recent days, said in an interview that Ryan returns to Washington “more confident that he can put forward conditions that will soothe his convictions and put his mind at ease.”
Peter Wehner, a Ryan friend and former adviser to President George W. Bush, concurred. He said that Ryan recognizes that his party may need him, but he wants House conservatives to make clear that they would not seek to “cripple him” from the start.
“He doesn’t have a moral obligation to get Republicans out of the rubble they’ve created for themselves,” Wehner said. “Asking for their goodwill is completely reasonable.”
But the House Freedom Caucus, an influential bloc of hard-liners, is far from ready to throw their support behind Ryan. That leaves him inclined to serve as speaker if his party calls but willing to pass should vocal back-benchers, and activists outside of Congress, rally against him.
Those conservative House members have pushed for a suite of rules changes, ranging from an overhaul of the party’s internal steering committee to a more open process for considering legislation. Ryan, they say, would not be exempt from those demands, which, if adopted, could give the new speaker less control.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of Freedom Caucus who has expressed measured support for Ryan as speaker, said Ryan could not expect to unify Republicans without making some procedural concessions.
“The displeasure with the way the House has been managed since 2011 is pervasive and crosses all sorts of philosophical boundaries within the party,” Mulvaney said. “The appetite for a new way of doing business is real, and whoever wants to be the speaker is going to have to speak to that.”
If Ryan decides against running due to opposition on the right, several House veterans wonder if anyone has the stature to step up and bring the party together.
“If Paul Ryan can’t unite us, no one can. Who else is out there?” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a moderate. “That’d be a sign of utter dysfunction, total madness.”
“We can’t keep governing crisis by crisis. [Ryan] needs the ability to lay out an agenda without people putting a gun to his head and saying: ‘If you don’t do what I want, we’ll shut down the government,'” King said.
Ryan’s allies say his conditions for becoming speaker are likely to include an understanding that he would have a free hand to lead without a constant fear of intra-party reprisals. That dynamic that has dominated the tumultuous speakership of Boehner, who announced last month that he would leave Congress at the end of October. Another aim would be to delegate some of the job’s travel and fundraising demands so that Ryan could spend enough time with his wife and school-aged children.
Wehner said that Ryan envisions his possible speakership as one that would be buoyed by his own standing in the party and shaped by an aggressive Republican policy agenda, rather than one consumed with catering to the whims of tea party members: “He’s got a vision for the party that he can articulate. He knows policy, philosophy, and where the party should go intellectually.”
Veteran House watchers say how Ryan navigates Tuesday’s meeting and the coming days could shape a potential speakership.
“My only caution is that he should go very slow and make sure that the whole conference is coming to him,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). “Don’t underestimate the degree of getting chewed up. We are not like the Democrats right now. They are relatively cohesive. . . . We are a movement in enormous ferment, with enormous anger and enormous impatience.”
Looming over Ryan’s deliberations is a churning frustration among Republicans nationally about the presidential primary field led by anti-establishment outsiders who have made common cause with the House GOP’s right flank. Republicans are also worried about the party’s ability to oppose the Democratic Party’s eventual nominee in a general election.
Leaving Washington before last week’s recess, most lawmakers hailed Ryan as the only candidate who could unite a Republican majority deeply divided over how to best wield its power. That has been complicated by a week of activist politicking — on talk radio, on conservative Web sites and in town hall meetings — that has sought to cast doubt on Ryan’s conservative bonafides.
His purported apostasies include supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the 2008 economic crisis, brokering a spending deal with Democrats in 2013 and — most crucially — being a leading Republican proponent of immigration reform packages that would give undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.
“There are people who have sort of bought the narrative that the speaker’s race is about trying to get someone who is more conservative, and for those folks Paul is not acceptable,” Mulvaney said. “But there are other folks who believe, and this is what I’ve been telling them, that it’s not about people, it’s about process.”
A new poll released Monday by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed strong support for Ryan among Republican primary voters, with 63 percent “comfortable and positive” about Ryan taking over the post. Twenty-eight percent said they would feel “skeptical and uncertain” if he became speaker.
Should Ryan decide not to heed the calls to run, it would set off a free-for-all that has already attracted roughly a dozen potential candidates who have expressed interest in running if Ryan does not. They range from powerful committee chairmen such Homeland Security’s Michael McCaul and Agriculture’s K. Michael Conaway, both of Texas, to Darrell Issa (Calif.), the high-profile former Oversight Committee chairman, to up-and-comers such as Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), who has played a lead role in the GOP’s recent fight against Planned Parenthood.
But many Republicans believe — or at least hope — that melee will be avoided as Ryan shifts from being averse to inclined to run, due to a wave of encouragement from officials and influential conservatives, as well as a sense of duty to his embattled party.
Republicans will meet again Wednesday morning.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who is backing longshot speaker candidate Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), sighed Monday when he heard about Tuesday’s unscheduled session, and said it signaled that the leadership was ready to get behind one of their own.
“This indicates they are at least close to presenting a successor to the conference, in an attempt to get momentum for that person,” King said. “There is an effort out there to talk Ryan out of stepping up, but he may be ready to present himself.”
Gingrich said that if Ryan does decide to seek the speaker’s gavel, he will learn quickly — and encounter early problems.
“It’ll take him about six weeks to go from being a policy guy to a process guy, and he’ll be very good at it,” the former speaker said. “But it’s a different world with a different set of rules. That’s what he has to think through: Is that really a world he wants to be in the middle of? Is he willing to endure the scarring?”