With the House speaker refusing to step aside, the GOP's internal turmoil could drag on for months and drag everyone down.
Paul Ryan’s announcement last week that he’s retiring from Congress, while insisting he will remain speaker of the House until the end of the year, has set off an unusual scramble for power that could stretch out over months.
The internal torment comes as Republicans brace for a “Category 3, 4, or 5” storm in November, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently warned. Having to squabble over who gets to replace Ryan represents yet another 2018 hurdle for the GOP.
Allies of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the current front-runner for Ryan’s job, are upset a new speaker won’t be tapped until after the elections — assuming the GOP keeps control of the House and gets to choose the next speaker.
They fear that a long, drawn-out battle might hurt McCarthy’s chances and distract from the GOP’s crucial campaign season.
Now comes word that McCarthy’s skeptics on the far right, members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, are plotting what kind of concessions and promises they want from McCarthy in exchange for their support.
“The Freedom Caucus is prepared to exact a price from Kevin McCarthy if he wants to be the next speaker of the House,” Politico reports.
Those demands could mount if the process drags on for months. It was the Freedom Caucus that led the fight against former Speaker John Boehner, forcing him to quit in 2015. And it was the Freedom Caucus that thwarted McCarthy’s efforts to succeed Boehner back then.
It also doesn’t help McCarthy that Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who was chairman of the caucus and remains one of the most outspoken leaders of the group, is also competing for the role.
Some Freedom Caucus members said McCarthy doesn’t have their vote yet, but they could be persuaded. Others have been far more pointed and blamed McCarthy, along with Ryan, for the party’s failures to accomplish much of its agenda.
“He’s not qualified,” Michigan Rep. Justin Amash bluntly stated.
“Kevin would have a hard time selling me,” said Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs.
The next speaker would need to secure 218 votes from the party’s caucus. Of course, if Democrats win control of the House in November, Republicans will be choosing their minority leader instead.
Meanwhile, more tension flared over the weekend when Ryan publicly endorsed McCarthy for the job, but failed to inform Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana that he was doing so. Scalise is also vying for speaker job.
Ryan could eliminate much of the GOP drama by stepping aside now, but he refuses to do so.
He has leaned heavily on the idea that he should remain as speaker through the end of the year because he’s such a successful fundraiser.
“[T]here is nobody who comes close to being able to raise the kind of funds I have and still can raise for this majority,” Ryan said last week. “It makes no sense to take the biggest fundraiser off the field.”
But there’s no indication or precedent to support the idea that donors will give lavishly to a lame duck speaker, especially when his retirement is viewed by many as a “white flag of surrender” and an acknowledgment that his party is going to lose control of the House.
For now, Ryan refuses to vacate, which means the turmoil will continue for months.