The House elected Rep. Paul Ryan as speaker on Thursday, capping weeks of uncertainty about who will lead the chamber and the Republican Party and ending the tumultuous rule of Speaker John Boehner.
In his speech accepting the position, Ryan conceded that the House has been crippled. But he called for a positive path forward, asking that his colleagues view his election as a new day and called on the chamber to take on the tough issue of the day: Growing the economy, strengthening military, lifting people out of poverty and paying down the national debt.
“I never thought I’d be speaker, but early in my life I wanted to serve this House. I thought this place was exhilarating because here you can make a difference,” Ryan said in his acceptance speech. “But let’s be frank. The House is broken. We're not solving problems, we are adding to them. But I’m not interested in laying blame. We’re not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.”
Ryan praised Boehner, but amid the Republican infighting and Boehner’s sudden resignation announcement weeks ago, pledged to run the House differently. He said he wants to allow contributions from more members, reinvigorate the committee process and end the practice of bringing up massive, must-pass bills at the last minute.
“A neglected minority will gum up the works. A respected minority will work in good faith. Instead of trying to stop the majority, they might try to become the majority,” he said.
Still, the vote was not unanimous, foreshadowing the difficulty Ryan will have in putting to rest the tumult that has marked Boehner’s speakership. Nine members, mostly members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, voted for Ryan’s intraparty opponent, Rep. Daniel Webster. Those members, Reps. Dave Brat, Curt Clawson, Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Walter Jones, Thomas Massie, Bill Posey, Randy Weber and Ted Yoho, have been skeptical that Ryan will change the way the House does business.
Webster was reported to be urging his followers to unify behind Ryan. Before the vote, he had separate conversations with several conservative members, including Reps. Steve King, Steve Pearce and Yoho. King and Pearce voted for Ryan, while Yoho backed Webster. Webster himself did not vote.
In his speech, however, Ryan addressed detractors and said he will try to work in good faith with both Democrats and Republicans.
“The cynics will scoff, they’ll say it’s not possible,” Ryan said. “You better believe we will try. We will not duck the tough issues, we will take them head on.”
A longtime Congressional staffer who was elected to the House in 1998 at the age of 28, Ryan rose to become chairman of the Budget and then Ways and Means committees. He was the Republicans’ vice presidential nominee against President Barack Obama in 2012.
When Boehner announced his resignation, and his presumed successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, dropped out of the race, Ryan reluctantly rose to the call of his colleagues and announced a bid for the gavel. He secured the endorsements of most of the House GOP’s caucuses, although the Freedom Caucus declined to officially endorse him.
At 45 years old, he is the youngest speaker since 1869.