Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday he would run for House speaker if the GOP conference’s three main factions endorse him by the end of the week, putting pressure on the party to unite behind him and end its monthlong leadership scramble.
The Ways and Means Committee chairman said he would enter the speaker’s race if members of the GOP caucus’s three principal groups — the Republican Study Committee, Tuesday Group and the more conservative House Freedom Caucus — agree to endorse him by Friday.
"We as a conference should unify now," Ryan told reporters shortly after the House GOP caucus held a closed-door meeting last night in the basement of the Capitol. If the caucus supports him, "then I would be glad to serve," he said.
Ryan, who has been considering running for speaker since Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) dropped out of the race earlier this month, needs a majority of votes from the caucus to secure the GOP nomination for speaker, and 218 votes to win the election on the House floor.
In announcing his interest in becoming speaker, Ryan made it clear that he would not run if the entire conference can’t unite behind him, as happened to McCarthy when he opted out when it became clear he didn’t have the support of the GOP’s conservative wing.
"We need to do this as a team," Ryan said, adding later that it was up to his GOP colleagues to reach an agreement in the coming days. "I have left this decision in their hands."
Ryan received a positive reaction from House Republicans in the conference’s private meeting when he gave a short speech to colleagues announcing his position, according to several lawmakers who attended.
"He wants unity, he wants everyone to be invested, and he wants everybody to help him," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said afterward.
While noting that he couldn’t speak for all of the members of the moderate Tuesday Group, Dent added, "I suspect many of our members will be supportive of Paul."
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) offered a similar summary of Ryan’s comments in the closed-door session. "He said he wants everyone to buy into it before he" jumps into the race, King told reporters.
Current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who announced last month that he would retire on Oct. 30, told the caucus that he would set a date for the speaker’s election today, according to several House Republicans.
The conference’s vote had been set for Oct. 29, but after McCarthy dropped out of the race Boehner said he would postpone the election — and stay on as speaker — until the party picked a new leader.
Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and the father of three young children, said he didn’t come to his decision easily. "I generally worry about the consequences that my agreeing to serve will have on [my family]," Ryan said.
But Ryan said in the end his "greatest worry is the consequence of not stepping up."
"This is not a job I’ve ever wanted, I’ve ever sought. I came to the conclusion that this is a very dire moment. I think our country is in desperate need of leadership," Ryan added.
Despite approaching deadlines on the debt limit, highway funding and appropriations, the House Republicans’ meeting focused solely on the speaker race.
But the busy agenda and House turmoil dominated the Senate side of the Capitol yesterday, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) traded accusations over Republicans’ ability to govern.
"We’re choosing to advance the cause on issues where there’s at least enough bipartisan support to get it out of the Senate and hopefully get a presidential signature," McConnell told reporters yesterday, citing a long-term highway bill and education reform as top Senate priorities this year.
But partisan bickering is already growing louder around a possible debt ceiling default, and Reid blasted the GOP for putting the markets in jeopardy by nearing a Nov. 3 deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
"It’s clear the Republican dysfunction is not limited to the House," he said.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went further, noting that 14 Republicans want to be president but they can’t find one to be speaker of the House.
McConnell said the Senate would wait to see how the House deals with the debt ceiling issue, adding that "obviously we don’t prefer a clean debt ceiling but let’s see what the House sends over and we’ll act accordingly."