WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Ryan won a majority of support from the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday, putting the the Wisconsin Republican a step closer to becoming the next House speaker.
The rebellious Freedom Caucus — a powerful block of about 40 House conservatives led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — made the decision to support Ryan after huddling behind closed doors for more than an hour Wednesday night.
The caucus will not officially endorse Ryan, because he fell short of snagging 80 percent of votes from the group’s members — the caucus’ internal threshold for taking official positions.
Bu it’s likely enough to satisfy Ryan’s own demand that he secure broad support from the GOP ranks before he is willing to take on the leadership job.
“A super majority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan’s bid to become the next Speaker of the House,” the caucus said in a statement Wednesday night.
“Paul is a policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects, and he has promised to be an ideas-focused speaker who will advance limited government principles and devolve power to the membership,” the statement said. “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.”
Ryan met in private with the group earlier on Wednesday, emerging from that hour-long session saying they had a “an exchange of ideas” and a conversation about “how to make Congress work better.”
Ryan announced Tuesday night that he will run for the top leadership job if he gets the support of all GOP factions. The Wisconsin Republican gave his colleagues until Friday to decide whether they can support him.
“I’m grateful for the support of a super majority of the House Freedom Caucus,” Ryan said in a statement last night. “I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team.”
Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, had repeatedly said he did not want the job but was pressed to run by Republicans who see him as the best candidate to unite the GOP conference.
“We as a conference should unify now,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday night after meeting with his Republican colleagues. “What I told members is if you can agree to these requests and if I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve, and if I am not unifying, that is fine as well — I will be happy to stay where I am.”
The current House speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, set off the leadership scramble last month when he announced that he would resign effective Oct. 30. At a news conference Wednesday, Boehner announced that Republicans will choose a new speaker next week–voting in conference next Wednesday to pick their nominee and on the House floor next Thursday.
He also predicted that Ryan would win.
“I think Paul is going to get the support that he is looking for,” Boehner told reporters.
The Freedom Caucus was Ryan’s biggest obstacle. The group helped force Boehner into retirement by threatening to call a no-confidence vote on his speakership. Boehner plans to leave Congress at the end of next week, assuming that House members have elected a new speaker.
The influential group also convinced Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to withdraw his bid to become speaker when it became clear he could not win their support. Before McCarthy dropped out, the Freedom Caucus had endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., to be the next speaker.
The Caucus is seeking changes to House rules that will allow them to offer more amendments, get more conservative bills on the floor and restore the independence of committee chairmen. Those changes would diminish the speaker’s power. “The next speaker must follow House rules and commit to an open process for debating and amending legislation,” the Freedom Caucus said in a recent Twitter post. “Let the House work its will.”
Before Wednesday’s meeting with Ryan, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., a member of the group, sounded skeptical that Ryan could win the group’s support, saying it did not seem like Ryan really wanted to serve as speaker.
“If you listen to Paul, what you hear is ‘I don’t want the job’,” Mulvaney said.
Ryan said Tuesday he is willing to consider rule changes to give all members a greater voice in the House. But he also said he wants to ensure that “we do not experience constant leadership challenges and crises.”
Boehner said Wednesday that Republicans already know Ryan well. “He works hard; he’s very bright.”
Contributing: Erin Kelly
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