Rep. Paul D. Ryan appeared to have locked up the votes Wednesday to become the next speaker of the House after a key conservative faction gave its support, even though he failed to win the kind of sweeping unanimity he had been seeking from the fractious Republican majority.
Ryan signaled, though, that the backing from a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus might be enough -- a potential truce with the renegade group that also fell short in its efforts to demand rule changes from the new speaker.
“I’m grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus,” Ryan said after the late Wednesday caucus vote. “I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team.”
Votes for speaker are set for next week in the GOP-led House, and the late developments could begin to resolve the leadership crisis that has stymied the majority.
“We’re trying to bring the conference together,” Rep. Raul R. Labrador (R-Idaho), a leader of the Freedom Caucus, said after the vote.
The race to select the next House speaker has driven a wedge in the fiery House Freedom Caucus, potentially weakening the unity of the conservative group that pushed out the current speaker.
Conservatives are torn over the candidacy of Ryan, the popular Wisconsin Republican, who has given his GOP colleagues until Friday to decide whether they are willing to end their infighting and unite around him.
At a caucus meeting Wednesday night, two-thirds of the group voted to support his bid, but at least a dozen others declined. That fell short of the 80% needed under the caucus' rules to win the group's official endorsement.
Even without the formal endorsement, Ryan could now potentially win a speaker's race if two-thirds of the caucus members voted for him. Only about a dozen Republicans are likely to be opposed.
The Freedom Caucus has based its influence on maintaining its 40-plus bloc of votes -- a force that nudged Speaker John A. Boehner's early retirement and then blocked the rise of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). But that unity is showing signs of fraying.
Some members of the caucus said Ryan's bid for speaker offered a compelling solution to the GOP's leadership struggle. Others, though, appeared unwilling to yield to Ryan's various conditions -- a position amplified by conservative groups outside the Capitol.
"Paul Ryan needs to decide now what he's going to do," Labrador said. He denied the caucus was divided by Ryan's bid.
But signs of division inside the caucus have been apparent in recent months.
Two lawmakers recently exited the group; one, California Rep. Tom McClintock, among the most conservative Republicans in the House, detailed the caucus' "many missteps that have made it counterproductive to its stated goals."
Deepening the wedge in the influential conservative caucus may become central to finding a new GOP speaker who can lead the divided majority and end the cycle of dysfunction that is damaging the party's standing with voters ahead the 2016 presidential election.
"Listen, I think Paul is going to get the support he's looking for," Boehner said Wednesday, before the Freedom Caucus vote. "But this decision is up to the members."
Ryan, the party's former vice presidential nominee, has said he is willing to take on the job to replace Boehner if the House majority's three main factions pledge support.
His chief obstacle was always the Freedom Caucus, which had thrown its support to one of its own, a little-known newcomer, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).
With party elections set for Oct. 28, Ryan -- like Boehner and McCarthy - would be expected to easily win a majority from within the House GOP. But the challenge will come the next day, when a full House floor vote poses a less certain outcome if all Republicans do not unite against Democrats.
“We’re not a monolithic group by any stretch,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a leader of the Freedom Caucus. “So the fact we have a difference of opinion amongst the various members is not at all unusual.”
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), a Freedom Caucus member who backed Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for speaker rather Webster, was leaning toward Ryan. Chaffetz dropped out of the running Tuesday and threw his support to Ryan.
"I'm not sure that Paul Ryan could walk on water today," Lummis said after hearing his pitch, "but give him 10 days."
Outside conservative groups, though, have already turned against Ryan and revved up their attacks.
And Republican voters appear to be in a fighting mood. Polling released Wednesday showed they want a new speaker who is not quick to compromise. Among GOP voters, 62% prefer a speaker who sticks to conservative principles, even if that leads to a government shutdown, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll.
Although Ryan is willing to consider some of the rule changes conservatives want to weaken the speaker's grip on power, he has several demands of his own that the Freedom Caucus is hesitant to support.
Top among them is making it harder for conservatives to deploy one of their most powerful tools: calling a procedural vote to oust the speaker, which led to Boehner's early retirement and warned McCarthy off the job.
Ryan told fellow Republicans he was willing to take "arrows in the chest, but not in the back," according to those familiar with his remarks to a private meeting Tuesday evening.
That will be a tough sell for conservatives who see the motion to "vacate the chair" as the strongest leverage they have over the leadership.
Some changes, such as raising the threshold for bringing such a motion to the floor or approving it, could be acceptable. But the caucus announced no decisions Wednesday regarding such a change.
Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham raised particular objection over Ryan's condition that he wouldn't travel as much for the party as Boehner had so that he could spend more time at home with his family.
"George Washington left the luxury and beauty of Mount Vernon for Valley Forge," she tweeted, referring to the Washington's role in the Revolutionary War. "He even worked wkends & morning workouts for his people."
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