Ryan facing growing doubts about hold on speakership
Top House Republicans are privately questioning whether retiring Speaker Paul Ryan can make it through Election Day.
No one’s plotting to take him out at this point, and Ryan insists he’s not going anywhere. But rank-and-file Republicans, including moderates who’ve been unflinchingly loyal to Ryan during his three-year tenure, have become increasingly willing to defy the lame-duck leader. And White House officials have also discussed whether Ryan should remain in the job, administration sources said, though there is no effort by the Trump White House to push out Ryan.
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The doubts have been fueled by a series of high-profile embarrassments for the Wisconsin Republican. The most recent was the collapse of the Republican farm bill Friday on the House floor. But centrist Republicans have also backed Ryan into a corner on immigration, the most contentious issue facing the party. And this week, those moderates are expected to reach the 218-vote threshold needed to force bipartisan votes to protect Dreamers — despite Ryan’s effort to stop them.
“The conference is in open warfare. Paul has run out of juice,” said a senior Republican lawmaker who wants a speaker vote to happen soon and requested anonymity to speak frankly. “It became clear on Friday that it’s time to let go.”
Adding to the awkwardness, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney over the weekend endorsed the idea of Ryan stepping down now and allowing his likely successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to become speaker this year. Procedurally, such a vote would also force Democrats to vote for or against Nancy Pelosi as party leader.
“I’ve talked with Kevin about this privately but not as much publicly,” Mulvaney said at an event hosted by The Weekly Standard. “Wouldn’t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That’s a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it.”
McCarthy denied suggestions Monday that he was trying to get President Donald Trump to oust Ryan, dismissing a separate report in The Weekly Standard that a coup was afoot. He also downplayed Mulvaney’s comments, arguing that the “only thing Mulvaney has ever talked about is ‘Will you run for speaker if we keep the majority?’ Nothing different than that whatsoever.”
“Paul is here until the end of election,” McCarthy said, disputing the notion that Ryan is too weak to remain speaker. The majority leader blamed Democrats for last week’s debacle on the farm bill.
“Democrats don’t want to work with us on anything, from the farm bill to taxes to opioids or anything else, so we had to do the farm bill all by ourselves,” McCarthy said.
Ryan allies argue that pushing him out wouldn’t solve the GOP’s internal problems. Plus, Republicans from all camps agree that McCarthy currently wouldn’t have 218 votes to be speaker — mainly because he hasn’t yet cut a deal with Freedom Caucus members for their votes.
“Speaker Ryan has said he intends to run through the tape and that has not changed,” said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.
But it’s unclear how long that argument will keep Ryan skeptics at bay.
After Ryan announced in mid-April his plans to retire at the end of the year but remain speaker through the election, White House officials asked members of the speaker’s staff whether it would be sustainable for him to remain in the job for seven more months, according to one administration official. Around that time, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) — a close friend of McCarthy (R-Calif.) — suggested publicly that Ryan should step down as speaker sooner, rather than later.
Some GOP donors also began expressing concerns about giving money to a lame-duck speaker who wouldn’t be there next year.