Paul Ryan Confronts Dissident GOP Conservatives in Offer to Be House Speaker


WASHINGTON—In setting conditions on a run for the speakership, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) is turning the tables on the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, which had laid out its own demands for the next speaker—but now must choose whether to endorse him or risk prolonging the chaos that has engulfed the House for almost a month.

The struggle is expected to play out over the next few days, given Mr. Ryan’s statement Tuesday that before he would run, various caucuses in the House Republican conference would have to endorse him by Friday, including the centrist Tuesday group and the Republican Study Committee, a larger caucus of conservatives within the House GOP.  

The biggest test will be the Freedom Caucus, which consists of almost 40 conservative lawmakers, and has insisted that the next speaker agree to a suite of changes on the way the House operates.

The group repeatedly has clashed with outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who they saw as too controlling and unwilling to give a voice to the rank and file. In addition to challenging Mr. Boehner, the group opposed the candidacy of his top deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, for the job. Mr. McCarthy withdrew Oct. 8 in the face of that opposition.

With less than a sixth of the House’s GOP membership, the Freedom Caucus has clout because it has just enough members to effectively hold veto power in House floor votes, if most Democrats vote in opposition.

In the speaker’s election, for example, where the whole House of Representatives participates in the vote, the Republican nominee would have a hard time winning over a majority of the chamber’s 435 members without the support of a majority of Freedom Caucus members. That is because Democrats typically back their own candidate, meaning the Republican would need to win a majority of the full House—218 votes if all members vote for a specific person—from within the 247-member GOP conference. Losing 40 Republican votes would make it impossible to reach a majority.

Mr. Ryan could potentially lose more because some members not in the caucus are sympathetic to its cause.

Mr. Boehner on Wednesday said the GOP conference will nominate a speaker Oct. 28, with the full House to vote Oct. 29.

He also expressed confidence that Mr. Ryan would win the endorsements he said he would need to run for the speakership.

“I think Paul is going to get the support he’s looking for,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.

Winning over the Freedom Caucus, which has vowed to vote as a bloc, is a lofty goal. The caucus requires 80% of its members to back a candidate before it will make an official endorsement, meaning that if roughly nine members object to Mr. Ryan, he wouldn’t have the group’s support.

The group had previously backed Rep. Daniel Webster (R., Fla.) and hasn’t changed that position, though it hopes to meet with Mr. Ryan later Wednesday after a small group of caucus members met with him on Tuesday.

One caucus member, Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.), said Wednesday after a GOP conference that Mr. Ryan doesn’t have his vote. “I think Dan Webster is the only one that has shown leadership and is willing to challenge the status quo.”

By insisting on near unanimity, Mr. Ryan has effectively asked the group to surrender on the speaker question. That increases the chances that he would lose the Freedom Caucus, whose members draw strength from a willingness to break with the Republican party.

That lack of cohesion among the Republicans could prove problematic for Mr. Ryan, just as it was for Mr. Boehner. Before he said he was stepping down, the rebellious conservatives were preparing to use a procedural tool aimed at forcing Mr. Boehner out of office. Their assumption was that their fellow Republicans would find it so difficult to support Mr. Boehner that the Republican leader would ultimately have to step down even if he survived the effort to oust him.

In late July, Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) submitted a measure to push Mr. Boehner out of the top position in the chamber, known as a “motion to vacate the chair.” The procedure could have enabled frustrated militant conservatives to force an embarrassing House floor vote on Mr. Boehner, who announced his resignation in late September in part to spare his colleagues from casting such a politically difficult vote.

Mr. Ryan told House Republicans Tuesday night that there “needs to be a change” to the process for deploying such a move.

“No matter who is speaker, they cannot be successful with this weapon pointed at them all the time,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. Mr. Buck said that didn’t mean eliminating the procedure, but didn’t clarify how it should be changed.

But hard-line conservatives who derived some of their power from dangling such a move over Mr. Boehner’s head will likely resist any efforts that would weaken that tool.

“Every democratically elected institution has a means in which you change your leader,” complained Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kansas), who said he concluded that Mr. Ryan wanted to eliminate the legislative maneuver as a condition of agreeing to run for speaker.

“I’m surprised and astonished that Paul Ryan’s answer to John Boehner is to give him more power than John Boehner had,” Mr. Huelskamp said.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at and Kristina Peterson at

2 thoughts on “Paul Ryan Confronts Dissident GOP Conservatives in Offer to Be House Speaker

  1. Not that it makes any difference whatsoever, Paul Ryan’s as good a guy as anyone to be there and get his head lopped off. I think I want to kick that widow’s peak down the street and have it roll ’till he’s facedown eatin’ dirt, then comes the game winning field goal.

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