A week after his surprise decision to leave Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan moved on several fronts this week to reassert control of the House Republican conference and snuff out efforts to accelerate his departure.
On Tuesday morning, Ryan (R-Wis.) told House GOP lawmakers that he had the support of the constituency that might matter most: big-dollar Republican donors, who have written and will continue to write checks to finance GOP campaigns ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Inside a closed-door meeting of lawmakers at the Capitol Hill Club, Ryan told his fellow Republicans that he had spoken to virtually all of the top GOP donors with whom he has developed relationships over his two-and-a-half years as speaker and had gotten assurances that they would continue to give through the 2018 cycle.
That, according to three people in the room who heard his presentation and described it on the condition of anonymity, was widely interpreted as a direct rebuttal to fears that Ryan’s fundraising would drop off a cliff as he remains a lame duck — which emerged last week as a prime argument for a quicker departure. Ryan said, according to those present, that no fundraisers have been canceled and that he fully intended to maintain, if not exceed, his current fundraising pace in the coming months.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said Tuesday that Ryan appeared to have tamped down some early chatter about forcing a quicker departure and installing a new speaker before November. While Walker acknowledged that some members might feel otherwise, “The bulk of the conference is okay with him staying on and focusing on what we told the American people we need to do,” he said.
Last week, in the immediate aftermath of Ryan’s retirement announcement, members mused that it would not be tenable for Ryan to remain as a lame duck speaker until after the Nov. 6 elections. Much of the chatter came from allies of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who has wide support across the Republican conference to succeed Ryan as the top GOP leader but has not secured the necessary majority of sitting House members to be elected speaker.
Even though Ryan endorsed McCarthy as his successor in a Friday NBC interview, the question of who will be next for the House GOP remains in limbo. The emergence last week of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — a leader of the GOP’s hard-right bloc, which has been skeptical of McCarthy — as a potential speaker candidate added to the uncertainty.
“We’re not going to just rearrange the deck chairs around this place and keep doing the same stuff with different people,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan co-founded.
People familiar with Ryan’s thinking but not authorized to discuss it publicly said Tuesday that he would not step aside unless another Republican — McCarthy or someone else — has the votes to succeed him as speaker. And none of the lawmakers who discussed the matter Tuesday thought that threshold could be reached before the election.
“I think Paul still has a lot to offer,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who said it would be best for Republicans to “start fresh with a new Congress and a new leadership.”
McCarthy himself has stayed silent on the leadership derby since the immediate aftermath of Ryan’s announcement, even after winning endorsements from Ryan and No. 3 GOP leader Steve Scalise (La.), the majority whip. McCarthy has yet to formally announce he intends to seek the top leadership spot and by all accounts is taking a much more deliberative approach to the race than when he last sought the speakership, and fell short, in 2015.
A handful of McCarthy allies — including in the California delegation and in the House class of 2010, whose members McCarthy helped recruit — remain open to a quicker transition.
“With the fact that this is such a turbulent year, the uncertainty … you’ve got to have your act together as soon as possible,” said Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.). “The longer you wait with leadership being uncertain, I think the more problems you have.”
But others said that Ryan’s posture has all but snuffed out any discussion of a quick switch atop the GOP ranks: “We’re focused on finishing this session and allowing an election to happen afterwards,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a close McCarthy friend. “The speaker’s made himself clear. The whip’s made himself clear, and our conference is pretty clear on the issue, as well.”
Ryan has also approached individual members to assure them he remains fully engaged in the job and make the case for his continued tenure. One of them was Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), a McCarthy ally who had been openly agitating last week for snap leadership elections.
Ryan has also worked outside of the confines of the House chamber to shore up his standing. During a Monday afternoon meeting with conservative movement leaders, he made clear he had no intentions of leaving before the election.
One attendee, GOP tax expert Ryan Ellis, said that Ryan brought the matter up without being asked and quickly cut off speculation when attendees asked about what he might do next year.
“He’s not leaving, and he’s not thinking ahead,” Ellis said. Instead, he added, Ryan made clear he is entirely focused on the 2018 midterms.
And in a Tuesday afternoon interview on a home-state radio station, Milwaukee’s WISN-FM, Ryan also reiterated his intention to stay in office — and defended his ongoing utility to House Republicans.
“There’s a lot more to do, and I want to see it though,” he said. “One of the reasons why I need to stay and run through the tape is I can help keep our majority. I can help our grass roots. I can help make sure that we have the resources to run our campaigns.”
Erica Werner contributed to this report.