Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan finally admitted that the rumors were true, announcing his intention to step down at the end of the term and retire — rather than run for reelection in the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s decision means that even if the GOP does manage to hold onto a majority after the November election — an outcome even more in doubt now than it was just weeks ago — the party will be seeking a new speaker of the House when it reconvenes in 2019.
Or, if some GOP House members have their way, maybe even sooner.
With the party still reeling from Ryan’s official announcement that he will be leaving DC, all ambitious House leaders are vying to take over the speakership — becoming the third, or possibly even second, most powerful Republican in office. And it’s a role that many are willing to do anything to win.
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The leading contenders are Congressman Kevin Murphy of California and Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, both staunch conservative leaders. Murphy has served as House majority leader since Eric Cantor lost his seat in a surprise upset in 2014, and already campaigned for the speakership when Ryan’s predecessor, Ohio Republican John Boehner, was ousted. Scalise is just one step lower than McCarthy in the House GOP hierarchy, and he gained a great deal of admiration and esteem after being critically shot by gunman during a Congressional baseball game.
And they both have considerable baggage. The Denver Post reports:
In 2014, Scalise was discovered to have addressed a white-supremacist group in 2002 founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise apologized and said he’d been unaware of the group’s racial views. McCarthy suggested in 2015 that a House committee probing the deadly 2012 raid on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, had damaged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, undermining GOP arguments that the investigation wasn’t politically motivated. That raised questions about his ability as a communicator, a key for party leaders.
Both Murphy and Scalise are logical choices for a far-right successor. But would they be right-wing enough to appease everyone? Not a chance — which is why Freedom Caucus leader and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan has signaled his intention to run, too.
While Ryan has officially backed McCarthy as his favorite — and even Scalise has agreed that the Californian would be a logical and acceptable replacement — Jordan has made it clear that no one will simply be anointed and walk away with the position.
“There is no speaker’s race right now. Paul Ryan is the speaker,” Jordan said Friday, according to the Washington Post. “If and when there is, I’ve been urged by colleagues to consider that, and I am definitely open to that. Right now, though, the focus has got to be on the next six months, us keeping the majority.”
There may not be a speaker’s race right now, but not everyone thinks that’s the way it should be. Politico reports:
Several allies to speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority leader, say House Republicans need to be united heading into the midterms, and that a leadership race could split the conference. Other Republicans are questioning whether having a lame-duck speaker at the helm of the Republican Conference will hurt their fundraising. “We would have more success if there’s no ambiguity as to what the leadership structure might look like,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), one of McCarthy’s closest allies, who is pushing for a vote to replace Ryan sooner rather than later. “Certainty is important. … From the conversations I’ve had, everybody wants our “A team” in place, our strongest team in place, so we have the strongest outcome going into the election cycle.”
Was Ryan’s decision to public support McCarthy as the next speaker just a ploy to keep McCarthy’s faction from ousting him immediately from his leadership role? If so, that may be the most successful negotiation Ryan has managed in his entire tenure as Speaker.