WASHINGTON—Fractious conservatives resisted Paul Ryan’s appeals to rally around him for House speaker Wednesday, suggesting fresh trouble ahead in the Republican-on-Republican struggle between pragmatists and purists. The fight has rendered Congress almost dysfunctional and shaken the party’s presidential campaign.
The conservatives’ reactions cast doubt on whether Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, can get the buy-in from all factions of the House he says he needs to run for speaker.
The Wisconsin congressman, a reluctant candidate for the post, has been asked to run by mainstream party leaders seeking to resolve a crisis set in motion when compromise-averse conservatives pushed Speaker John Boehner to resign and then pressured his likely successor into withdrawing.
The same intraparty divide is roiling the Republicans’ presidential campaign, with outsiders led by Donald Trump dominating the field for months.
On Wednesday, some House members quickly took issue with Ryan’s suggested changes to congressional rules and even his desire to balance family life with the demands of the job.
“No other speaker candidate came in and said here’s the list of my demands, either meet those or I’m not going to do this,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, complained the day after Ryan outlined the conditions for his candidacy. “Speaker’s a big job. And it’s not a 9 to 5 job. So there are a lot of questions to be answered.”
Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, another Freedom Caucus member, said: “I think it’s pretty presumptuous to say that Paul Ryan is the only one who can win this.”
And Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama questioned Ryan’s plans to cut down on fundraising travel associated with the speaker’s job in order to spend more time in Janesville, Wisconsin with his wife and three school-aged children. “There is a plethora of candidates for speaker of the House out there who have the time necessary to do the job,” Brooks said.
The comments came as Ryan began making the rounds to the three major House caucuses whose endorsements he is seeking as a condition for running for speaker. It’s a job the 45-year-old never wanted but is exploring, he says, out of a sense of duty after Boehner announced his resignation and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly withdrew from the running to replace him.
Ryan has made clear that he does not want to be the latest victim of Republican dysfunction and will run only if it becomes clear he can unify the House GOP.
“I won’t be the third log on the bonfire,” he said.
Boehner, who hopes to leave Congress at the end of this month, sought to move the process forward, scheduling secret-ballot House GOP elections for Oct. 28, to be followed by a floor vote in the full House the next day.
On Wednesday Ryan met with the mainstream conservative Republican Study Committee, and he was to meet on Thursday with the establishment-aligned Tuesday Group. Both groups are expected to support him. The big question mark is whether the Freedom Caucus will do the same.
For now, the group is sticking with its earlier endorsement of another candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, a low-key former speaker of the House in Florida who’s focused on “pushing down” on what he calls the “pyramid of power” in the House.
The Freedom Caucus has around 40 members and requires 80 percent agreement to make an endorsement. Several members said that would be a tough order. Several also complained about Ryan’s proposal to change the process for a “motion to vacate the chair”—the procedure conservatives were threatening against Boehner.
“I like Paul Ryan a lot. I like Thomas Jefferson better,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a Freedom Caucus leader who said that Jefferson created the rule.
Ryan, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, is known for authoring a conservative GOP budget that slashed spending on social programs. But he’s now coming under attack from outside groups who accuse him of being insufficiently conservative, citing his support for comprehensive immigration legislation and government bailouts.
And Ryan’s record of working with Democrats to seek compromise may not win him points with the GOP base. An AP-Gfk poll released Wednesday found 62 percent of Republicans would prefer a new speaker who will stick with conservative principles even if it leads to a government shutdown. Just 37 percent prefer someone who will compromise with Democrats to pass a budget.
One of Ryan’s first tasks if elected speaker would be dealing with a Dec. 11 deadline to pass spending legislation or face a shutdown. Even before that, Congress must raise the nation’s borrowing limit in two weeks’ time, or face an unprecedented default.
The Freedom Caucus has grown increasingly isolated amid the chaos, with complaints growing louder from other Republicans about their veto power over the daily workings of the House, and its next speaker.
“They have to decide if they want to be part of this team, if they want to move forward an agenda that can make the American people proud,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida.