Ryan weighs job of House speaker

WASHINGTON — Maybe Rep. Paul Ryan doesn’t feel like a character in the classic film “The Godfather,” weighing an offer he can’t refuse. But with Republican Party elders practically begging him to become the next House speaker, the pressure on him to seek the post is immense.

Yet with the House tumbling through a chaotic period as hard-right conservatives make the chamber nearly unmanageable, there are plenty of compelling reasons to decline the job, too.


Facing conservative opposition, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has resigned and hopes to leave Congress by October’s end. In a second, equally startling blow, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the favorite to succeed him, dropped his bid last week.

Senior Republicans quickly settled on Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, as their strongest option to unify the divided House GOP and steer it away from possible political catastrophes like a government shutdown or federal default. He’s been lobbied to take the job by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite.

Accept the GOP nomination to be speaker — he’d still have to be elected by the whole House — and he’d immediately earn the gratitude of his now-tattered party. That would increase his clout in the House and give him chits he could bank should he run for president someday.

Reject the offer and many Republicans could feel he’d abandoned them at a critical moment. Politicians have long memories, and whether Ryan remains in the House or seeks higher office, that could bite him later.

“People have defined him as the only possible hope,” said former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., a Ryan friend. “If you’re defined as an only hope and you say ‘No,’ that’s a negative thing.”


As speaker, Ryan would immediately become the most powerful, highest profile Republican in Washington. He’d decide which bills the House considers and would be a leading voice in the national and internal GOP debate over what a conservative vision of government looks like.

Yet Ryan already has a post that lets him display his views on taxes, health and trade, perhaps more clearly than he could as speaker. He’s chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and can push bills through that panel spotlighting how he’d address those major issues.

Ryan as speaker would be responsible for muscling measures all the way through the House. But they might crash or be changed. Even with the biggest GOP majority in decades, Boehner has seen embarrassing setbacks on education, farm and transportation bills, thanks to Democrats and rebellious GOP conservatives.

“If you do it right, I think you can write your ticket” to your next political goal, said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. “But there are no guarantees here because you can’t control all the variables.”

Boehner could help Ryan by clearing some of the messiest issues before departing, which he’s expressed a willingness to do. That could include raising the federal debt limit, which must be done by early November, and approving spending legislation to avert a partial government shutdown in mid-December.

Even so, history shows that being speaker is a rickety launch pad to the White House. Only four speakers or ex-speakers have received their parties’ presidential nominations with just one elected — former Speaker James K. Polk.

That was in 1844.



They’re not going anywhere. And while some leaders like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, seem supportive of Ryan, there are no guarantees conservatives wouldn’t make his life miserable down the road.

Already, some conservative grassroots groups want to stop Ryan. They cite votes during his 17-year House career to revamp education, expand Medicare and buttress financial institutions during the Great Recession, plus his supportive views on trade pacts and an immigration overhaul.

“We need someone who’s going to disrupt the system,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.

As speaker, Ryan could find himself striking compromises with President Barack Obama. Just ask Boehner how that plays out.

Boehner has conservative views and a pragmatist’s approach to legislating. Lawmakers and outside groups who consider him insufficiently conservative and not confrontational enough with Obama and congressional Democrats turned on him.

“Anyone making deals, who wants to move things forward is considered an enemy collaborator,” said former Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio. “We used to consider that an effective member.”



Ryan, 45, savors returning on weekends to his young family in Janesville, Wisconsin. As speaker, he might have to kiss some of that goodbye.

Boehner has been one of the GOP’s most prolific money raisers, with political aides saying he’s raised nearly $300 million since 2009. But that means frequent weekend travel and evening fundraising events in Washington. That’s not the best schedule for Ryan to see his wife and three children, who range in age from 10 to 13 years.

In fact, when he emerged from the Sept. 25 closed-door House GOP meeting when Boehner shocked his colleagues by resigning, Ryan told a reporter, “I don’t want to be speaker. It’s a good job for an empty-nester.”


Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

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