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Ryan's retirement has GOP conservatives making bid for influence

Friday , April 13, 2018 - 1:16 PM

Billy House, Erik Wasson and Anna Edgerton

(c) 2018, Bloomberg.

WASHINGTON - A bloc of conservative House Republicans is pushing their own candidate to succeed Speaker Paul Ryan, leveraging their votes for influence and potentially turning an internal party contest into a public free-for-all.

Ryan and the rest of his leadership team have been trying to head off a power struggle within the House GOP in the wake of his retirement announcement, which comes as the party is fighting to cling to its majority after November congressional elections.

But Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and a leading congressional critic of the Justice Department’s and FBI’s handling of the Russia-Trump investigation, said Friday he is considering a bid for a leadership post.

“I’ve been encouraged to run and I am open to it,” Jordan told reporters.

Ryan has given a tacit endorsement to his chief deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. The No. 3 House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said he wouldn’t run against McCarthy in a contest for House speaker or, if Republicans lose the majority to Democrats in November, as minority leader.

The Freedom Caucus, which numbers about three dozen House members, has long been critical of McCarthy, even though he’s close to President Donald Trump.

Jordan said his main goal, as he considers running, is to get party leaders to stick to a conservative agenda. That means passing funding for Trump’s border wall with Mexico, cutting back the $1.3 trillion in spending Congress approved last month, overhauling welfare and repealing the Affordable Care Act, he said.

“It’s about principles first. So we want to lay out a set of principles that any speaker has to follow,” Virginia Representative Dave Brat, a Freedom Caucus member, said.

In the current House, which has 237 Republicans, the Freedom caucus sways enough votes to keep any candidate from getting a majority vote needed to ascend to House Speaker should Ryan step down before his term is up in January.

“There is no one who can get the 218 votes to be speaker today except Paul Ryan,” North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said.

Other conservatives who are not members of the Freedom Caucus, such as Walter Jones of North Carolina, also said they would support Jordan if he ran.

“I would fully support Jordan,” said Jones. “We need someone in that chair who will commit to not bringing up bills that are not paid for, that are going to bankrupt this country.”

There was no immediate response from the offices of McCarthy or Scalise on Jordan’s possible candidacy.

If Democrats gain seats as expected in the November elections, Republican losses likely will fall most heavily among moderates representing swing districts. Staunch conservatives such as Jordan and Meadows tend to represent Republican strongholds, and so they likely will end up with greater influence within the GOP House ranks.

By advancing their own candidate, the conservatives may not be counting on winning, but that they would certainly influence the outcome of the race, several members said.

Other Republicans, such as New York Rep. Peter King, expressed wariness about the bid by conservatives, who’ve pressed the party not to compromise with Democrats.

Jordan is “a nice guy, but the Freedom Caucus has been the main source of our problems,” King said. “Jim has the right to run, Freedom Caucus has a role to play in the party, I just think that they’ve overplayed their hand.”

The introduction of a potential third candidacy could make the post-election closed-door vote for Republican party leader - either in late November or early December - more complicated.

Under House Republican rules, when there are more than two candidates for any office and none receives a majority of the votes on the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes on that, and each succeeding ballot, will be dropped until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

That could mean that a candidate with a solid bloc of votes, even if he or she were to finish third in the initial vote, might have the influence with his or her backers to give another candidate a margin of victory - possibly in return for support for another Republican post, a seat at the leadership table.

In an interview Friday, Jordan declined to discuss whether, in a potential bid by him for party leader, he might consider cutting a deal with another candidate that would have him accepting another top job, such as majority leader.

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