Winning Endorsements, Ryan Is Poised to Become Speaker

October 22
Representative Paul Ryan leaves a meeting, held with moderate members of the House Republican caucus, about his bid to become the next House speaker, on Capitol Hill October 22. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has played hard to get, but it looks as if his House colleagues have finally won him over to be their next speaker. Ryan sewed up support from the three key GOP House caucuses on Thursday afternoon, putting him on track to win the election for the leadership post, set for October 29.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group of conservative GOP members, announced in a statement Thursday it was endorsing Ryan after meeting with him Wednesday in Washington. "After hearing Paul lay out his vision for the future of the Republican conference, I am confident that he is the right person to lead the House going forward," caucus Chairman Bill Flores of Texas said. Ryan "has shown he is willing to work with fellow conservatives to address our policy and process goals."

The RSC was the last of the caucuses to throw its weight behind Ryan. The Tuesday Group, which consists of GOP moderates in the House, endorsed him Thursday morning. But the decisive support came from the House Freedom Caucus, a relatively new organization of renegade House conservatives, which announced its backing—though not its endorsement— Wednesday night.

The House Freedom Caucus requires the support of 80 percent of its members (roughly 40 people, although they keep their membership secret) to issue an endorsement. They didn't reach that threshold for Ryan's speakership bid. But the caucus put out a statement Wednesday evening announcing that a "supermajority" of its members voted to back Ryan. "While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan's preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our Conference in due time," the statement said.

After resisting entreaties to run for speaker for more than a week, Ryan, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, announced Monday that he would reconsider if the three caucuses unified behind him. He also set out a list of other conditions to strengthen the speaker's hands vis-à-vis backbench members and to ensure he did not have to be on the road raising money every weekend. Ryan has three young children back home in Wisconsin, and the position's time demands were one of the reasons he initially rejected the idea of running.

Ryan accepted the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus, issuing a statement saying, "I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team." The caucus was at the root of Speaker John Boehner's surprise decision to step down at the end of the month, as well as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's decision to withdraw from the speaker's race. Neither man was seen as sufficiently conservative for the caucus, or committed to the process changes they demanded to ensure rank-and-file members have a more active voice in the chamber's direction. Up until Wednesday, it was unclear if Ryan could overcome those stumbling blocks. But he and the caucus managed to reach a détente on each other's demands.

The coalescence of support behind Ryan ends the nearly monthlong House leadership saga. And it's a huge relief for Republicans in Congress, who are the majority in both chambers but have been beset by internal feuds and are struggling to prove they can govern. Ryan's election next week will hardly be the end of those challenges. Between now and the end of the year, Congress needs to reach agreement to keep the government funded and running, raise the debt ceiling so the country can pay its bills, and reauthorize an expiring program for highway and other infrastructure maintenance. Ryan may not be able to maintain the Republicans' unity for long.