WASHINGTON – House Republicans return to Washington this week to confront a leadership crisis and looming budget deadlines.
Attention is focused on Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who is under pressure from party leaders to run for House speaker – a job he has repeatedly made clear he doesn’t want.
Even if Ryan yields to his colleagues’ pleas, conservatives are increasingly serving notice that the 45-year-old House Ways and Means Committee chairman will have to audition for the job just like anyone else, despite the widespread support he has.
More than a half-dozen lawmakers are considering running for speaker if Ryan does not, even as hard-liners warn that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, risks more rebellions if he stays on past his planned departure date of Oct. 29.
“John is a lame duck. There was a reason John announced his resignation,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus. “I think Paul does have the credibility across the conference to be able to unite us, but to say he’s the only one I think is hyperbole.”
“It’s not just the conservatives Paul would have to convince,” Mulvaney added. “Everybody’s interested in a new type of leadership.”
The turmoil comes as Congress confronts the need to raise the federal borrowing limit by early November or risk a market-shattering default, and delicate talks are underway to come up with a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown in two months. The task of raising the debt limit is falling to Boehner. But he will have to tread carefully, given GOP objections to an increase without concessions from President Barack Obama – something the White House is ruling out.
Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, one of the Republican rebels, said he would consider forcing a vote to push Boehner out of the speaker’s chair if Boehner engages in “nefarious activity.” Massie defined that as “running the tables” on legislation not supported by a majority of Republicans. .
The job of speaker “would more or less fall in the category of thankless task, because people are not going to be in agreement with anything that a speaker does,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of the lawmakers who says she is being encouraged to consider the job.
For Ryan, who may harbor presidential ambitions, the job is unlikely to be the best stepping-stone. Only four speakers or former speakers captured their parties’ presidential nominations, and just one won the White House – former Speaker James Polk in 1844.
Already Ryan is under attack from some conservatives inside and outside Congress for his support of comprehensive immigration legislation.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Congress’ leading immigration hard-liner, said Ryan would be unlikely to win support from House conservatives opposed to any “pro-amnesty” politician.
Last week, King circulated a letter to fellow House Republicans aimed at building support for Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, the preferred candidate of the Freedom Caucus and other conservative groups in the House, including the Conservative Opportunity Society, which King heads.
“Other than one candidate dropping out, nothing has changed in the race for speaker,” King’s letter said. “The best candidate, Daniel Webster, is gaining momentum for his demonstrated leadership.”