Editor’s Note: Did you know the founder’s thought the “Speaker of the House” ought to be someone NOT A HOUSE MEMBER? The result of ANY House Members being speaker, and the subsequent hierarchy, means Americans no longer have EQUAL REPRESENTATION. To have equal representation every member of the House, including your Representative, must have an equal voice. That has not been true for a VERY LONG TIME.
Paul Ryan’s first inclination was to jam them.
He was so wary of the modern speakership — and the political climate in the House — that Ryan said he wouldn’t run for the chamber’s top job unless he could exact a number of concessions from the conservative rank and file. Unlike John Boehner, Ryan wanted his confrontation at the front end.
Story Continued Below
Ryan was intent on moving swiftly to overhaul the motion whereby one member of the House could force a vote to remove the speaker by a supermajority. His skeptics, however, were wary.
When North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows filed a so-called motion to declare the speakership vacant in late July, it was the beginning of the end for Boehner. Ryan knew he could suffer the same fate. The Ways and Means chairman told his closest friends that he couldn’t operate with that kind of threat hanging over his head.
He had a few options at hand, but no clear strategy for how he would remove the dangling legislative anvil. But he felt strongly it had to get done. Ryan intended to act quickly. He would secure the support for the speakership, but at the same time, Ryan planned to head to the House floor to set up a vote on changing the rules to make it harder to remove him. It was a power move that would leave no doubt who was in charge.
But like so many decisions in Ryan’s run for the speakership, this one was subject to drastic change and modification. After multiple private discussions with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a friend and leader of the House Freedom Caucus, Ryan reversed course. He delayed his bid to change the motion on the House floor and told conservatives they would discuss the reform as part of a larger conversation about overhauling the House rules later this fall or early next year.
Jordan spread the message to his allies: Ryan had come around.
The about-face was one of several critical shifts during Ryan’s flash campaign for the speakership. It’s not that Ryan was rearranging his ideological makeup or abandoning long-held beliefs. Ryan was — and, in many ways, still is — getting accustomed to wielding power over the masses. For years, he has had his hands on the levers of power, but the Ways and Means and Budget committees are far different from the speakership. Ryan’s fiefdom has always been limited to a few dozen loyal members of his committee.
The unruly 247-member House Republican Conference is another beast altogether. The incentive structure flips: It’s easier to exert leverage over the speaker by opposing him than supporting him. Ryan is figuring out how to make that work for him. His goal, according to people close to him, is trying to create an internal political climate in which his can be successful — and thrive — for the long run.
The first part of Ryan’s evolution was deciding to run in the first place. He had long held that the job simply wasn’t for him. In January 2014, during an event sponsored by the Texas Tribune in San Antonio, Ryan was asked for the first time: “Does Paul Ryan want to be speaker?”
“No, he doesn’t,” Ryan shot back.
“When [wife] Janna and I joined [Mitt Romney’s presidential] ticket, we looked at what would this do to our family and we realized that actually we would see each other more in the vice presidency than as a member of the House,” Ryan told Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith. “We would see each other less in the speakership than as a member of the House.”
He ticked through the reasons at length.
“I’m more of a policy person,” he said. “I prefer spending my days on policy and my weekends at home with my family. My weekends consist of going to the YMCA for basketball and then one of their neighborhood parishes for basketball these days. I want to keep doing that. … The speaker is expected to fly around the country on weekends as well, helping folks — I’m not going to do that. I’m four days a week in D.C. and three days a week in Janesville [Wis.]. It’s a good mix. I like that mix.”
There wasn’t one made-for-TV moment in which Ryan drastically changed course and decided to seek the House’s top job. When Boehner resigned — and Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to replace him — people close to Ryan began to wonder when he would get the call to step up. Everyone from members of the clergy to senior figures of his own party harangued Ryan to run. After conversations with his wife and three young children, Ryan gradually understood that he had no choice but to take the job.
But when Ryan finally acceded, his aides were convinced it would be a short-lived run.
Ryan would grudgingly seek the job, but he didn’t want to operate under the circumstances Boehner had. He said he would run only if he was the consensus choice of the conference. He needed all the major caucuses — the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the Tuesday Group — to endorse him in order to mount a serious bid. In Ryan’s orbit, that was taken as a sign that he would never be speaker. Many in the Freedom Caucus favored Ryan, but 80 percent — the threshold to secure an endorsement — was a nearly impossible hurdle to clear.
People close to Ryan were convinced the Freedom Caucus would say it was close to an endorsement, but needed more concessions to secure support. If that happened, Ryan was prepared to drop out of the contest, according to multiple sources close to him.
When Ryan got the news that a supermajority of the Freedom Caucus would back him, the Wisconsin Republican was lounging in his office with his inner circle: Andy Speth, his Wisconsin chief of staff; Kevin Seifert, his D.C. chief of staff; Brendan Buck, his communications director; Austin Smythe, his policy director; and Joyce Meyer, the staff director on Ways and Means.
When it became clear that it was just a handful of members preventing an endorsement, Ryan realized that dropping out would “not be responding to the call to duty,” according to a source familiar with his thinking. After 15 minutes of back-and-forth, Ryan’s office sent out the message: He was all in.
It was an unusual leadership campaign. Ryan had no whip list, he didn’t ask anyone for support. But he did take nearly every meeting requested of him, voicing support for everything from rules changes to empowering committee chairmen to quicker action on spending bills. Conservative members repeatedly asked him whether he would hire Boehner’s outgoing aides. He would bring on many of his own staffers, he said.
But while Ryan was circling the conference asking for support, Boehner was secretly trying to save him from a tumultuous first year. The Ohio Republican was holding secret talks with the White House and Senate leaders on a package that would lift the debt ceiling and fund the government for the next year. Ryan was aware of the talks — as was his staff — but purposely stayed far away.
So when the compromise was released after an intense weekend of talks between congressional leaders and the White House, Ryan turned sharply against Boehner. Reps. Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Justin Amash of Michigan and other Freedom Caucus leaders approached Ryan on the floor, surrounding him in a circle, asking him what he thought of the compromise. He said he hadn’t read it yet but vowed that as speaker, things would be done differently. He later said he would vote for the bill.
“He shares the frustration we do and he wants to do it better,” Labrador said, shortly after his chat with Ryan. “We have to take him at his word, and I think he is being sincere.”
On Monday morning, Ryan and his sole competitor escaped to a basement room in the Capitol to make their final pitches to House GOP lawmakers. Over a Chick-fil-A breakfast, Ryan promised a new process, a new message and a new agenda. He wanted to set up the party for the 2016 election. Ryan took questions. His only competitor, Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, did not.
Hours later, Ryan sealed the party’s nomination during a closed meeting in his Ways and Means hearing room. He avoided horse trading during his campaign for speaker, but he was already making good on his word: He began to lay plans to restructure the powerful House Republican Steering Committee by Thanksgiving. A complete overhaul of the rules, he said, would be complete by the end of the year.
Lauren French contributed to this report.