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Paul Ryan officially jumps into the race for speaker

Rep. Paul Ryan declared his candidacy for speaker on Oct. 22 in a letter to his House colleagues, saying the party is now a "united team." (Video: Reuters)

Rep. Paul Ryan said Thursday he would seek to become House speaker hours after influential GOP factions pledged their support, ending two weeks of drama and doubt about the Wisconsin Republican’s intentions.

“After talking with so many of you, and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as one, united team,” he told colleagues in a letter. “And I am ready and eager to be our speaker.”

The announcement makes it clear that it will be Ryan, 45, who takes the gavel from outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) when he leaves office next week. Boehner on Wednesday set the vote on his successor for Oct. 29, a day before he intends to resign.

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Ryan’s decision came after a week’s contemplation with his family in Wisconsin, followed by a 48-hour frenzy of meetings and conversations with colleagues about his possible ascension to the top job.

The climax came Thursday when the Tuesday Group of GOP moderates backed Ryan by acclamation in a morning meeting, then the conservative Republican Study Committee announced its endorsement in the afternoon.

“I am confident that he is the right person to lead the House going forward,” RSC Chairman Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.) said in a statement that followed what he called an “overwhelming” vote of the group’s steering committee. “He has the policy expertise, conservative principles and strong values we need in our next Speaker.”

Ryan requested both endorsements as part of a three-pronged test of GOP unity he set out before he would formally agree to serve as speaker. The third prong — the hard-line House Freedom Caucus — said Wednesday night Ryan had “supermajority” support in its ranks.

[‘Supermajority’ of House Freedom Caucus to back Paul Ryan’s speaker bid]

Ryan’s announcement late Thursday served to bookend a hectic day on Capitol Hill, one dominated by a day-long grilling of Hillary Rodham Clinton by a GOP-appointed committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks. It also marked the possible beginning of the end for a tumultuous leadership contest that began last month with Boehner’s resignation.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who dropped out of the speaker’s race Oct. 8, said he thought Ryan was in “very strong shape” to secure the post.

Asked why during House votes on Thursday afternoon, McCarthy quipped: “Because when I ran, 80 percent of the Freedom Caucus was against me, and now they’re not” against Ryan.

Ryan’s path to the speakership cleared Wednesday after a majority of Freedom Caucus members agreed to back his bid for the speaker’s gavel. The Freedom Caucus is made up of some of the most aggrieved members of the Republican caucus, who have been in constant conflict with the leadership of the party in the House.

Those confrontations forced Boehner to announce that he would resign the speakership and leave Congress, and then forced McCarthy out of the race to replace him.

Earlier this week, Ryan laid out the conditions under which he could be persuaded to take on the role of speaker, as he has been urged to do by much of the GOP establishment.

Among those conditions was the backing of the entire House Republican Conference, particularly the Freedom Caucus, which was regarded as the biggest obstacle.

Ryan told the various groups to decide by Friday whether they would support him. Late Thursday afternoon, Ryan said he felt “fine” about his chances, before admonishing a reporter to get a haircut and ducking into his Capitol conference room. “I’ll make a statement sooner or later,” he said.

Ryan met with the Tuesday Group for about an hour Thursday morning behind closed doors in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a leader of the Tuesday Group, said there was “very strong, overwhelming support” for Ryan inside the room. “Paul knows we want to expand the governance wing of the party, and we made that pretty clear to him,” he said.

Ryan needs to focus on “changing the underlying dynamic of how we govern around here,” Dent added. “As soon as Paul steps into this job, we’ve got the debt limit, a budget agreement, omnibus [spending bill], transportation — all of these things are going to require collaboration and cooperation with the other side of the aisle. Will the membership, in total, support him? Will Paul have to fight that rear-guard action?”

There are still signs the hard right could complicate life for a Speaker Ryan. The Freedom Caucus stopped short of granting Ryan a formal endorsement, which would have required an 80 percent vote of the roughly 40-member group. But Ryan said Wednesday that the level of support was “a positive step toward a unified Republican team,” rather than a sign of political rift or disagreement.

Meanwhile, anti-establishment conservative activists continued to lambaste Ryan — and, perhaps for the first time, the Freedom Caucus felt the heat, too, from the party base.

“I put my credibility on the line for you because you asked me to. Then you just pull out and go for the ROMNEY PICK?” commentator Glenn Beck wrote in a Facebook post, referring to Ryan’s role as Mitt Romney’s running mate on the 2012 Republican presidential ticket.

Asked if Ryan’s rise was assured, Flores said, “I sure hope so, but you never know until the fat lady sings on the floor next Thursday.”

Rep. Paul Ryan announced on Oct. 20 that he will run for House speaker, saying "this is not a job I ever sought." (Video: C-SPAN)