M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO
Some conservatives complain he’s setting them up to be blamed if he decides not to run.
By LAUREN FRENCH 10/20/15 11:50 PM EDT
Paul Ryan wants a full embrace from the House Freedom Caucus before he runs for House speaker. Early signs from the conservatives are they might never get there.
After Ryan addressed Republicans late Tuesday, saying he would need conservative backing to run, lawmakers in the 40-member group of hard-line conservatives came away wary of the Ways and Means chief’s demand for unconditional support. They were dismissive of his Ryan’s request that they relinquish a procedural tactic they used to threaten to strip outgoing Speaker John Boehner of his title – one of the most potent weapons in the group’s arsenal.
And it is clear the conservative lawmakers will insist on more specifics from Ryan before they would consider an endorsement. Sources within the caucus said he’ll have to discuss policy and procedural changes the Freedom Caucus wants and offer up tangible promises to decentralize power from leadership to rank-and-file members if he wants their backing.
Without specific pledges, those sources said, Ryan will have a hard time clinching the backing of 80 percent of the group’s members — its threshold for an endorsement.
“I got the sense that Paul Ryan was not willing to look at rule changes before October 29, and without that I don’t see him getting 80 percent,” one Freedom Caucus member said, referring to the expected date of the election for speaker.
The Freedom Caucus has until Friday to decide if it will back Ryan. Several of the Freedom Caucus’ most influential members huddled in the office of Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the group’s chairman, late Tuesday night. And board members of the conservative organization will meet Wednesday to discuss Ryan’s conditions.
The Wisconsin Republican told his colleagues on Tuesday that he would serve as speaker if — and only if — the three largest coalitions in the GOP House support his candidacy. An endorsement is nearly assured from the Republican Study Committee and the moderate Tuesday Group.
“I have left this decision in their hands,” Ryan said at a press conference.
The Freedom Caucus has already endorsed Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster for speaker but that support is only for the internal vote of House Republicans. The conservative members could still back Ryan on the House floor. Webster told reporters Tuesday he is still committed to running for speaker.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, said Ryan made “some very reasonable observations about how anybody would need the support of the entire conference if they are going to be a successful speaker.”
The caucus is not ready to support Ryan, Salmon added, though he didn’t rule it out.
“All things are possible,” Salmon said. “I think the issue of process reforms are going to have to be addressed one way or another before the Freedom Caucus wholesale jumps in bed with him.”
But already Ryan has ruffled feathers within the group. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idado) said that getting rid of the “motion to vacate” procedure — which Boehner was confronted with over the summer, one of the factors in his decision to resign — is a “non-starter.”
“I think we need to invite him in and have him expand on what he meant. You know he just gave a short speech,” Labrador, a Freedom Caucus member, said.
Ryan’s conditions essentially put the group in a no-win spot of endorsing a candidate for speaker many figures on the far right say is too moderate and accommodating — or blocking a highly respected figure in the GOP, the one candidate widely seen as capable of getting 218 votes on the House Floor.
One Freedom Caucus who requested anonymity in order to speak freely was asked whether Ryan is setting up the group to be blamed if he ends up not running.
“You can certainly read it that way,” the lawmaker said.