House Republicans met Friday morning after a day of chaos Thursday that saw House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suddenly drop his bid to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House. And their hopes have largely turned to a man who only the day before said, not for the first time, that he had no interest in the job. Right now, there’s no clear path forward unless that changes. And a Ryan bid still isn’t looking promising.
After McCarthy announced he was out Thursday, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan quickly put out astatement saying he wanted no part of the speaker job. “Now it is important that we, as a conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership. While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate.” he said. And on Friday, after the caucus meeting, a spokesman for Ryan said, “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker.”
Many House Republicans had left their morning meeting with fingers-crossed for Ryan to possibly sweep in and lead the caucus out of Thursday’s turmoil.
Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a leadership ally, said he thinks Ryan is the right person to ascend to the House’s top post. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who has not ruled out running for the gavel himself if the opportunity arises, said, “Right now, I have a candidate I am trying to get into the race, and I am going to keep working on him.” That would be Ryan, who Issa says “is the consensus candidate at this point.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who has been running for the speaker’s post, said he would drop his bid if Ryan jumps in. “If Paul Ryan got into the race, of course I would support him,” he said. “He would be the kind of person that I could get excited about, but part of the reason that I got into the race is because people like Paul Ryan weren’t stepping up to do it.” House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said she would also like to see Ryan run.
Rep. Sean Duffy, who like Ryan is a Wisconsin Republican, said that Ryan “hasn’t changed his mind” about jumping into the speaker’s race during an interview Friday morning with MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart, but he expressed hope that Ryan will nevertheless “reconsider and take the spot”:
He’s kind of a boy scout, he wants to do what’s right for the country, and if he feels that no one else can take the position and he’s the only guy left, which I think he prays that that’s not the case, I do think he’ll make a decision that’s not just right for his family, he has little kids, but also that’s right for the country, and my hope is he’ll reconsider and take the spot.
Even if he does change his mind and run, Ryan’s path wouldn’t necessarily be easy. Some conservatives—like Reps. Thomas Massie, Steve King, Justin Amash, and Louie Gohmert—are still backing Rep. Daniel Webster for the job, although some of that support could possibly change if Ryan really is to join the race. Rep. Jim Jordan—who leads the House Freedom Caucus, which has endorsed Webster—said Friday, “We’ve endorsed Mr. Webster. Nothing’s changed.” Rep. David Schweikert said that while he thinks Paul Ryan has the propensity to lead, “It’s not about the man; it is about the policies and procedures.” Conservatives still want to see a speaker candidate who makes more promises to changing the way legislation is moved and voted on in the House of Representatives.
In Friday’s meeting, McCarthy reiterated his announcement from Thursday, telling the conference he would not run for speaker. Rep. John Fleming, of Louisiana, said Boehner spoke briefly to the group. “He just basically said he was going to remain speaker until we get a new speaker; he expected that by the end of the month,” Fleming said. Paul Ryan was not even mentioned in the meeting and he left early, said Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer, of Indiana.
Leaders also formally announced a task force to examine rules and procedural changes, which conservatives have been asking for as a prerequisite to voting for any speaker.
Messer, who will helm the task force along with McMorris Rodgers and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, said changing leadership is only part of the solution. He said the conference will not be satisfied unless leaders make changes to the way legislation is passed and how factions in the conference coexist: “We’ve got to recognize as a conference that we’re essentially a coalition government made up of centrist swing-state Republicans, a governing conservative middle, and the tea party, Freedom Caucus on the right. Unless we figure out a way to make those three groups operate more coherently, we’re going to continue to have troubles.”
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, of Georgia, a Freedom Caucus member, said the immediate emphasis should be on process changes: “I want to see a change in the culture of Washington, D.C., and I think the way you do that is not who you elect, but it’s the process, it’s the procedures. So there is a number that are saying, and I agree with this, [that] before we move ahead with a speaker vote, let’s address the process, let’s address the rules, let’s make sure that every member of Congress has a voice here.”
McMorris Rodgers said Friday that the caucus is “committed to an orderly process, and I think it is worth taking the time.”
Rep. John Kline, of Minnesota, and Rep. Candice Miller, of Michigan, both retiring at the end of this term, have each been floated as possible placeholder candidates for the speakership to give the conference more time to settle on a consensus leader in 2016. Rep. Cole suggested Kline as an alternative to Ryan Friday. Miller has already said she is not interested.
Clare Foran contributed to this article.