(Bloomberg) — Rep. Paul Ryan is under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to run for U.S. House speaker after a hard-line faction forced Speaker John Boehner to resign and his top lieutenant, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to drop out of the race.
“I have nothing new to say,” Ryan said while entering a meeting of party members Friday that ended without any decision from the Wisconsin Republican. A day earlier, Ryan and his aide repeatedly said he wouldn’t run for the job. Rep. Chris Stewart said Ryan told him he is “thinking about it.”
“There will be an-all out push to get him to reconsider his position,” said Republican Stephen Womack of Arkansas. "For this position, let’s face it, our bench is not deep."
The Republican turmoil is occurring just weeks before critical deadlines to raise the U.S. debt limit and fund the government. The calendar is tight to avoid fiscal calamity — a default deadline Nov. 5, followed by a possible U.S. government shutdown Dec. 11.
Boehner told Republicans during Friday’s meeting that he is determined to get a deal to raise the debt limit, said Rep. Dennis Ross. The speaker acknowledged that getting enough votes to pass a debt-limit increase would be difficult even if the late Mother Teresa were attached to it, Ross said. Boehner had planned to leave Congress by the end of October, but has said he’ll stay until a new speaker is chosen.
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Ryan, 45, of Wisconsin — chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee — is viewed as a unifying force. His biggest bipartisan accomplishment was a two-year budget deal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Patty Murray in 2013. Stewart of Utah said that among Ryan’s strengths are national experience and fundraising prowess.
“His time is now, and many of us believe he will answer the call,” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California. “He’s gone from a hard ‘no’ to knowing he has to consider it.”
Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who declared his candidacy for speaker earlier, said, “I would not run against Paul Ryan.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said Ryan didn’t announce his intentions during the meeting and that conservatives are waiting to see who emerges. The Freedom Caucus is a group of almost 40 conservatives instrumental in Boehner’s departure and McCarthy’s decision not to seek the top job.
Meadows wouldn’t say whether he would support Ryan. “Certainly he would be a very credible candidate,” he said.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, chairman of the 45-member Tea Party Caucus, told reporters Thursday that if Ryan did run for speaker, he would have to appear before conservatives and answer questions the same as any other candidate.
On Thursday, Ryan canceled fundraisers he had scheduled for the next two days, a Republican leadership aide said.
Many Republicans thought McCarthy could be their new leader, but he shocked the Republican caucus by pulling his name from contention to replace Boehner just minutes before a vote.
“We need somebody who is going to reach out to the members. We’ve got a lot of talent in the Congress,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus, said in an interview with MSNBC Friday. “I don’t think this is the ‘shutdown caucus’ as we’ve been called before.”
Boehner decided to resign following repeated clashes with hard-line conservatives.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has said Congress must raise the debt limit by about Nov. 5 to continue paying the nation’s bills. Lawmakers have struggled to increase the limit since Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, nearing the brink of default in 2011 and 2013 as conservatives battled to attach policy changes. Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt for the first time in 2011.
The party chaos “makes it more difficult and time is of the essence,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky.
“This is not something I think we should play chicken with, and its potential impact on the capital markets,” said Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee of about 170 conservatives. Still, he also said, “on the debt ceiling the American people want to see something positive. They don’t want to just see an increase.”
Conservative Republicans forced a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 in an unsuccessful effort to defund Obamacare. Last month, their insistence on defunding Planned Parenthood as part of federal spending legislation prompted Boehner to announce resignation plans and rely on Democratic votes to avoid an Oct. 1 shutdown. Those lawmakers are likely to try again when the short-term government funding measure Boehner helped shepherd runs out Dec. 11.
The tension among Republicans was reflected with turmoil even within the Freedom Caucus. One of its members, Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, said in a statement that he left the group because of its recent maneuvering.
“I was a member of the Freedom Caucus in the very beginning because we were focused on making the process reforms to get every member’s voice heard and advance conservative policy,” Ribble said. “When the speaker resigned and they pivoted to focusing on the leadership race, I withdrew.”
McCarthy’s announcement that he wouldn’t run for speaker underscored internal party divisions that have built up in recent years as anti-government Tea Party-backed Republicans began entering Congress.
Thursday’s turmoil began when McCarthy told members at a closed-door meeting that he wasn’t the right person to unite the caucus. Within minutes, Ryan issued a statement saying he didn’t want the job.
A number of lawmakers, including Rogers, said they wouldn’t run for speaker. Two others who were already seeking the post, Reps. Dan Webster of Florida and Chaffetz of Utah, said they were staying in the race. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia said he would run for the job. Some lawmakers suggested that an interim speaker may emerge from the ranks of members who aren’t seeking re-election next year.
Republicans are in “complete disarray,” said Huelskamp.
—With assistance from James Rowley, Kathleen Miller, Justin Sink, Terrence Dopp and Sahil Kapur in Washington.
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