A strong majority of anti-establishment lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus voted Wednesday night to support Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for House speaker, effectively delivering the Republican Party unity that he had sought as a condition for accepting the post.
While the vote fell short of the four-fifths majority required for the group’s official endorsement, lawmakers said it nonetheless cleared the way for Ryan, 45, to be selected as the Republican nominee next Wednesday and formally affirmed as speaker in a floor vote the next day.
Ryan did not immediately comment on whether the majority vote was sufficient given that he said he wanted the endorsement of all factions of his party.
One member, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, said that roughly two-thirds of the Freedom Caucus had pledged to vote for Ryan for speaker, and called the outcome an “offer of support.”
Labrador, however, also warned that the group’s backing was far from unconditional.
“We want to make sure he understands that this is not about crowning a king,” he said. “It’s about working together.”
Emerging from the meeting, another member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, said of the vote, “It’s sufficient for him to become the next speaker, in my opinion.”
Ryan, a fiscal-policy expert who has insisted that he never wanted the speaker’s gavel, is chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which he has long said was his dream job.
The father of three school-age children, Ryan would be the youngest speaker since John Blaine took the job in 1869.
The vote by the Freedom Caucus seemed to effectively end a tumultuous leadership crisis that has thrown the House into chaos over the last few weeks.
The unexpected resignation announcement by Speaker John Boehner late last month was followed by the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, abandoning his own bid for the position in the face of conservative opposition.
After that, Boehner and other party leaders pleaded with Ryan to reconsider.
Ryan said Tuesday night that he would reluctantly accept the speakership, but only if his Republican colleagues united behind him and agreed to several demands. These included changes to a procedure for removing the speaker from office that would deprive rebel lawmakers of a potent weapon.
Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina initiated that procedure — a motion “to vacate the chair” — against Boehner in July. Meadows could have forced a vote within two days, but stopped short of doing so.
A spokesman for Ryan said he did not believe any speaker could serve successfully without a change in that procedure.
“He believes there needs to be a change to the process for a motion to vacate the chair,” the spokesman, Brendan Buck, wrote in a briefing paper for reporters. “No matter who is speaker, they cannot be successful with this weapon pointed at them all the time.”
Earlier Wednesday, a number of Freedom Caucus members expressed resistance to Ryan’s demands, particularly the one regarding the motion to vacate the chair. And some members said they were worried that Ryan did not really want the job.
“If you listen to Paul, what you hear is ‘I don’t want the job,’ ” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a founder of the Freedom Caucus. “He went from ‘I don’t want it and I won’t take it' to ‘I don’t want it but I might take it under certain terms and conditions.’ The preface to both of those statements is still ‘I don’t want it.’”
That opposition softened significantly Wednesday night as members began to say they would support Ryan. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying that Ryan’s record on fiscal issues had won his vote.
“Since coming into office in 2010, my single biggest focus has been on our annual deficits and our long-term debt,” Stutzman said in the statement. “In my observation, no one is more qualified to tackle these issues than Chairman Ryan.”
He added, “There is no doubt that Paul Ryan is the person best positioned to lead our party.”
By thrusting the decision into the hands of his colleagues, Ryan seemed to make a calculated gamble that the Freedom Caucus would not want to be seen as derailing his candidacy and prolonging the leadership crisis among House Republicans. But there was also risk in pushing too hard against a group whose members have shown a willingness to shut down the government or even default on federal debt obligations while standing on their beliefs.
The Freedom Caucus previously endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster, a little-known Florida lawmaker, who has promised to completely change the way the House does business, giving more power to committees and the rank and file. Webster has virtually no chance of winning, but said Wednesday that he was still a candidate.
Ryan had set a Friday deadline for three key groups — the relatively centrist Tuesday Group, the mainstream conservative Republican Study Committee and the Freedom Caucus — to endorse him and agree to his demands. Only the Freedom Caucus had expressed any doubt about supporting him.
While it takes only 148 of 247 Republicans to win next Wednesday’s vote, it requires 218 votes on the floor to win the speakership. By tradition, Democrats will vote for their leader, Nancy Pelosi.
Ryan’s announcement that he was willing to serve came as a relief to many of his colleagues, who wondered if anyone would step up and take the job under the current circumstances.
“There’s only one guy I think who can unite us,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who counts Ryan’s in-laws as constituents and has known the family for years. “There’s one guy with national stature. I think Paul Ryan is the best guy to put 218 votes-plus up on the board.”