House Republicans nominated Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as their next speaker Wednesday, tapping one of their party’s brightest stars as the leader they hope will close out an era of GOP divisiveness and recrimination.
Ryan is set to be formally elected to succeed outgoing speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in a House vote Thursday morning. Thanking his fellow lawmakers after Wednesday’s closed-door party ballot, Ryan said his nomination “begins a new day in the House of Representatives.”
“Tomorrow, we are turning the page,” he said. “We are not going to have a House that looks like it’s looked the last few years. . . . Our party lost its vision, and we are going to replace it with a vision.”
Wednesday’s nomination vote came just before the House approved a controversial fiscal deal negotiated by Boehner that would increase government spending by $80 billion and raise the federal debt limit. While the agreement passed with mainly Democratic votes, it also cleared major fiscal obstacles from Ryan’s path in his the first 16 months as speaker.
Ryan bucked pressure to oppose the deal from conservatives who worked to force Boehner from office, saying in a statement that the agreement would help “wipe the slate clean” as he ascends to the top job.
While Ryan won support from 80 percent of his GOP colleagues, there were signs Wednesday that the party’s fissures may persist. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who has gained a small but loyal following among hard-right lawmakers drawn to his pledges to change House rules and procedures, earned 43 votes to Ryan’s 200.
Most Webster backers — many of them members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus — indicated they will back the party nominee after Ryan spent the past week reassuring them that they will play a more prominent role in lawmaking.
“The ideas that Daniel Webster’s been talking about, the House Freedom Caucus is talking about, is exactly what Paul Ryan agreed to do,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who said that he remained undecided going into Thursday’s vote but that there was no doubt that Ryan will prevail.
Among the party’s larger group of mainstream conservatives, there was widespread relief that weeks of uncertainty over who would succeed Boehner ended with Ryan agreeing to take the job. There was also open excitement about the type of leader Ryan might be.
Ryan has spent much of the past decade burnishing his credentials as a conservative ideas man, from his 2008 “Roadmap for America’s Future” though his four-year tenure as House Budget Committee chairman, his 2012 vice-presidential nomination and his ascent earlier this year to chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
“Paul Ryan is the right person to lead our team at this time,” Boehner said Wednesday. “He’s an innovative thinker who’s focused on giving more Americans more opportunity to achieve the American dream, and I think he’s got the skill set to do this job. Frankly, I’m very confident he’ll do it well.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Ryan would be “more visionary” than Boehner and the other three sitting congressional floor leaders.
“He’s thought through what he wants to do, and, you know, I think he knows where he wants to take us,” Cole said. “And, frankly, because he’s been so clear and compelling in his own vision, I think most of us know where he wants to take us.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said: “We’ll have a mixture of Newt Gingrich and John Boehner. Gingrich was a very good communicator, a big idea guy. John Boehner really fixed the institution, brought integrity to it.”
Still, Ryan faced a difficult task in persuading the roughly 40 House hard-liners who helped push Boehner out of office to give him their backing.
He eased minds during private meetings last week, and he began making more-public commitments to quell lingering concerns. On Tuesday, for instance, he endorsed a review of House and party rules and said he was committed to implementing changes by January: “It’s clear that members of the House and the American people have lost faith in how this place works. And naming a new speaker alone isn’t enough to fix it. We need a robust dialogue about improving the process so that each member has a greater voice, and we need a firm deadline to implement changes.”
Ryan also addressed doubts about some of his policy positions that have left conservatives wary — mainly his past support for an overhaul of immigration law. In a conference meeting Wednesday morning, Ryan pledged not to pursue any immigration bill unless it had the support of a majority of House Republicans.
“He won my vote by coming across as a very honest broker and someone we can work with to move the ball forward,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member. “We’ve had enough conversations with Paul to understand he has a different idea about how to govern going forward.”
Rising inside the closed room Wednesday to formally nominate Ryan was Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), whose widespread popularity among House conservatives has been burnished in recent months by his leadership of a special committee investigating the 2012 attacks on U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya.
Speaking in the same House hearing room where, a week ago, he led the questioning of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton for 11 hours, Gowdy called for unity in the face of sharp rhetoric from conservative activists and media personalities that has divided Republicans along tactical, if not ideological, lines.
Gowdy said lawmakers had to play a stronger role in defining conservatism rather than allowing “bloggers” to do it for them, according to members in the room.
Democrats also welcomed Ryan’s ascent, for different reasons. White House officials expressed hope Wednesday that he will be empowered to pursue a more bipartisan course after claiming the gavel.
“We hope that the processes of identifying and selecting a new speaker isn’t a precursor to a partisan way of governing, but rather that the next speaker . . . is positioned to work with Democrats,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said Ryan’s rise would set up a stark contrast of ideas, seizing upon provisions in his budget proposals that would transform Medicare and Medicaid.
“There is a difference in policy, and this presents the clearest distinction of anyone they could have named,” she said. “This, I think, will be refreshing. It will be an honest debate about priorities.”
Boehner said he told Ryan to steel himself for nasty battles ahead.
“This is the loneliest place in the world, almost as lonely as the presidency,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to make decisions, and those decisions have consequences, and the consequences fall back on one person. So it’s something that takes a little getting used to.”
Karoun Demirjian, Juliet Eilperin, Paul Kane and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.