The Cable

Paul Ryan Considers Running for Speaker Amid Urgent Pleas

As they frantically search for a consensus speaker, House Republicans just won’t take no for an answer.

US Republican Representative from Wisconsin Paul Ryan mingles with colleagues before US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015.   AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US Republican Representative from Wisconsin Paul Ryan mingles with colleagues before US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

As they frantically search for a consensus speaker, House Republicans just won’t take no for an answer.

A wide array of GOP lawmakers repeatedly pressed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday to become the next House speaker following the stunning withdrawal the day before of the establishment’s heir apparent, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Despite Ryan’s early vow that he won’t be a candidate for the position, Republicans are insisting the Ways and Means Committee chairman and former vice presidential candidate is the only person capable of uniting the deeply fractured House GOP conference. Now Republicans say Ryan has shifted from an absolute “no” to a maybe.

“He’s thinking about it,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told Foreign Policy after exiting a Friday morning GOP conference meeting. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told reporters that Ryan expressed to him privately that he’s more open to it than before. “I think he’s gone from a hard no to he knows he has to consider it,” Issa said.

In reaction to the bombardment of urgent pleas and editorials around the country urging him to step up, Ryan cancelled all of his fundraising events in the next two days. Yet he remained tightlipped about his plans. “I don’t have anything more to say — nothing’s changed,” Ryan told reporters on Friday before being whisked away in an automobile outside the Capitol steps.

The Draft Ryan movement is largely coming from Republican leadership. But given the Wisconsin Republican’s credibility with grassroots conservatives and national prominence, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and McCarthy believe he could do what they could not: Govern a party in the midst of a raging a Tea Party insurgency.

“If he decides to do it, he’ll be an amazing speaker, but he’s got to decide on his own,” McCarthy told CNN on Friday.

Foreign policy and national security are unlikely to play a dominant role in the minds of House Republicans as they consider their next leader. But GOP defense hawks are already expressing concern about letting the Freedom Caucus, a band of about 40 House conservatives more interested in budget cuts than an uptick in Pentagon spending, dominate the selection process.

McCaul, a defense hawk and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said even Ryan’s speakership could be problematic for defense spending.

“That’s going to be one of the questions I’m going to ask him,” McCaul told FP. “He seems to be a little more of a budget hawk than defense. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but I just think given the threats out there, the high threat environment, that’s going to be an important issue.”

The other two Republicans who are vying to become speaker are Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), the latter of whom won the Freedom Caucus’s endorsement on Wednesday. But neither appears capable of winning the 218 votes necessary to become speaker, leaving Boehner at the helm longer than the Ohio Republican wanted.

“I think the most likely path at this point is that Boehner stays in until we have someone who can get to 218 votes on the floor,” said a Republican congressional aide.

Another aide said it was impossible to predict what would happen in the coming weeks. “Who knows right now?” he said.

The “problem is, the conservatives need action. Simply promising them without delivering worked for Boehner, but they are tired of it and want to see action,” the second aide said. “The next speaker will be someone willing to deliver on some of his promises.”

The chief complaints among House conservatives was Boehner’s deal-cutting with the Senate and the White House on budget issues and debt ceiling showdowns. The Freedom Caucus says it wants to give more power to rank-and-file Republicans and committee chairs.

A caucus flyer that circulated Thursday posed questions for the next speaker, including: “Would you commit to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen?” and another seeking clarity on approving an increase in the debt limit if it didn’t include entitlement reform.

Just who might feasibly follow Boehner — If Ryan continues to resist — remains unclear.

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