Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a pitch Tuesday night to run for House speaker and end weeks of GOP chaos as long as Republican lawmakers meet certain conditions for his tenure.
“If you can agree to these requests and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve,” Ryan said in a press conference following a closed-door meeting of the House GOP Conference on Tuesday night.
“This is not a job I ever sought. This is not a job I ever wanted. …. I came to the conclusion that this was a dire moment,” Ryan said. “We need to move from being an opposition party to being a proposition party…Our next speaker has to be a visionary one.”
In a reference to the demands of the House Freedom Caucus that wants dramatic changes to House rules, Ryan said: “We need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative.”
But Ryan hasn’t completely committed yet to the job of replacing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who wants to step down by Oct. 30. He sketched out a timeline of making a decision by Friday — but in order to run, he wants the fractious Republican conference to rally around him, including the moderate Tuesday Group, the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Several Republicans said they expected Boehner to announce a date for the leadership elections on Wednesday.
“We as a conference should unify now and not after a divisive speaker election,” Ryan said.
“I considered to do this with reluctance and I mean that in the most personal of ways,” he said, adding that Janna, his wife, and his young children should not have to suffer as a result of his seeking the speakership. “I cannot and will not give up my family time.”
“I genuinely worry about the consequences that my agreeing to serve will have on them,” he said, but added that: “My greatest worry is the consequence of not stepping up.”
Inside the closed-door Republican meeting earlier that night, the Wisconsin Republican stood calmly before his colleagues, said several GOP lawmakers.
According to several lawmakers present, Ryan said: “I’m willing to take arrows in the chest but not in the back.”
He referenced the bitter infighting between House conservatives and former GOP leaders that saw the ouster of Boehner (R-Ohio) and contributed to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) not taking the plunge.
“I don’t want to be the third log on the bonfire,” Ryan said, in a reference to Boehner and McCarthy, according to Republicans who were inside the private meeting.
On running for speaker, Ryan said: “I hope it doesn’t sound conditional… but it is,” he said, with a smile.
Earlier in the day, Ryan’s allies said his conditions for assuming the speakership were 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 John 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.
But there were signs that some conservatives weren’t happy with a Ryan candidacy.
But Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a House Freedom Caucus member, said Ryan’s apparent entry doesn’t clear the field.
“There’s still a race for the speakership,” he said.
And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), known as a tough immigration foe, said he’s concerned about Ryan’s views on immigration and granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. “In the short term, it wouldn’t be a struggle with Paul Ryan, but we know what he believes in,” King said.
“We’ve got candidates for speaker. Can’t we have an election, and elect a speaker? I’m not an anti-Paul Ryan guy. I appreciate him. I like him. I respect him,” King explained. “There are big issues that transcend those things, and immigration is one of those.”
But other potential rivals for the House speakership appear to have stepped aside, including Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Bill Flores (Texas).
“I’m out, and I’m in with Paul,” Chaffetz confirmed. “More aggressive and playing offense was a message that was well received. We have to stop playing defense.”
“I hope and pray we get him to the finish line,” Chaffetz added. “I don’t know anyone who would be better to do it.”
Here’s more on how the news played out:
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) tweets that Ryan is running, with conditions:
I think we have White smoke, with conditions…. #RunPaulRun
— Rep. Bill Huizenga (@RepHuizenga) October 20, 2015
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally, thinks Ryan will run.
Cole, who has been one of Ryan’s most avid proponents, said before going into the meeting that he was confident Ryan will agree to serve and that he will be embraced across the GOP caucus — including by the hard-line faction.
“They know him,” Cole said. “He’s been here 17 years. He’s also known as someone who treats people fairly, is always open to new ideas and suggestions. If you want something more than that them that’s up to you.”
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) says he’s still in the race:
The current choice of the House Freedom Caucus, in an interview Tuesday night, said he would stay in the race for speaker regardless of whether Ryan runs. “No,” he said flatly when asked if he’d dropped out should Ryan get in. “I’m tired of having a top-down approach.”
The Freedom Caucus picked Webster as their standard-bearer when Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was still in the race. It’s unclear what they’ll do now.
Current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thinks Ryan should and will run:
In a Fox News interview broadcast Tuesday night, Boehner said: “I do expect that we’ll know later on this evening what his answer is,” adding that he thinks “Paul would be a great Speaker.”
“I think he’s got the skills to do the job and I think he also has the credentials to reach out to traditional conservative organizations to help bridge the gap we have today,” Boehner added, saying he believed he could get the votes to win the speaker’s job.
When asked about when the speaker election would be, Boehner said: “We have not yet set a date, but I’ll do that I think here in the next day or two.”
Buck replied on Twitter:
As if I wasn’t getting enough emails. Thanks @SpeakerBoehner. I still do not expect a final decision tonight.
— Brendan Buck (@BrendanBuck) October 20, 2015
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member who ousted then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said conservatives would support Ryan if he reforms the process by which the House runs.
“It’s less about Paul Ryan’s policy positions and more about the guarantee that he’s going to allow everybody to vote their conscience and vote their district,” Brat said.
“It’s really process,” Brat explained. “I mean policy is equally important, but the policy pieces will be met, right, because our side doesn’t want leadership doing retribution or punishing members for voting their conscience and for voting their district. “If we can get to that, then that almost takes care of a lot of the policy differences, if we can get assurances that the process is going to be fair.”
Karoun Demirjian, Kelsey Snell and David Weigel contributed to this report.