Paul Ryan willing to serve as speaker, but with conditions

Posted at 8:53 PM, Oct 20, 2015

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Rep. Paul Ryan told House Republicans he is willing to serve as speaker and will make a decision within the week.

But he’ll run only if he’s supported by three groups inside the House Republican conference: the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the moderate Tuesday Group, his spokesman, Brendan Buck, confirmed.

Ryan also had a few more demands: He wants changes to House rules made as a team; he wants to make it harder to overthrow a sitting speaker; and he wants a better work-life balance than Boehner had as a prolific fundraiser.

“If the members agree with his requests and share his vision, and if he is a unity candidate — with the endorsement of all the conference’s major caucuses — then he will serve as speaker. He will be all in,” Buck said.

Ryan spent the day engaging in a flurry of back-channel conversations with GOP lawmakers as an anxious Republican Party eagerly awaits his decision. He discussed the possibility of seeking the speakership on the phone with fellow lawmakers and met with members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Southern Caucus. Ryan addressed his deliberations with the full GOP conference during a closed-door dinner.

Ryan was expected to address reporters Tuesday night from the House Gallery. Earlier Tuesday, he played coy with reporters, telling them he has “nothing to add.”

“Anybody who wants to meet with me, I’m going to do that,” Ryan said.

It was all part of a strategic effort to show that he was not running for speaker — but was open to being drafted, his allies said.

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner expressed confidence on Fox News’ “Special Report” that Ryan would announce his decision later Tuesday night and will set a new date for leadership elections in the next few days.

“I hope he does decide to run, and if he does, I think he’ll be elected,” Boehner said.

Asked about Boehner’s comments, Buck said the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee was unlikely to make a decision Tuesday evening. If Ryan passes on the job, Republicans are growing nervous that there is no one else who could unite a fractured party.

“It worries me a lot,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN. “Because a leaderless House of Representatives is not something that is conducive to legislative successes — and it diminishes us even more in the esteem of the American people.”

Returning to his office from the airport, Ryan was mum on what he would do.

“Good to see you,” he told reporters waiting outside his office. But on both sides of the Capitol, the prospects of a Ryan speakership began to dominate the conversation — particularly as congressional leaders struggle to reach a fiscal deal by a critical November 3 deadline.

‘Let the House work its will’

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are signaling that Ryan will need to work to get its support, something the Wisconsin Republican has shown little interest in doing.

The caucus tweeted Tuesday night that “The next speaker must follow House rules and commit to an open process for debating and amending legislation. Let the House work its will.”

“I have concerns with anybody who is not going to give us a reform agenda,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “If anybody thinks we are just going to get behind somebody just because they have a national name, they are sadly mistaken.”

Ryan met in his committee’s offices with conservative members for about 45 minutes. Rep. Justin Amash, a leader of the conservative group, said it was an “informal” gathering and not an extensive discussion. And Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said they discussed “party unity” and how the caucus could get behind him. Meadows said he’d “bet (Ryan) throws his hat in the ring.”

But Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp said the caucus was still supporting Rep. Daniel Webster, who reiterated on Tuesday he would run for the speakership regardless of what Ryan decides.

“We can’t have just another John Boehner 2.0,” Huelskamp said.

Ryan did, however, pick up an unlikely supporter Tuesday in Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who said a Ryan speakership would improve prospects over raising the debt ceiling.

“Well he appears to me to be one of the people over there that would be reasonable,” Reid said. “I mean, look at some of the other people. I’m a Paul Ryan fan.”

Asked about Reid’s endorsement by reporters later, Ryan simply laughed.

Senate GOP leaders said that Ryan’s deliberations had put their decisions on how to move forward on debt limit talks on hold — and that the House GOP needed to figure out its leadership dilemma within the next 24 hours in order to help come to some kind of consensus on debt talks.

“It will probably become more clear when the House determines who the leader is going to be over there,” said Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, when asked about the next steps on the fiscal matters.

If Ryan passes on a bid, upwards of a dozen potential candidates could run for the speakership, something that could take weeks to sort out and presumably leave Boehner in the speaker’s chair past his plans to resign on October 30.

To right their ship after a rocky few weeks following Boehner’s resignation announcement, Republicans have scheduled three meetings in two days where they will talk about the way forward — including one to discuss imposing new party rules to give more power to junior lawmakers.