Without a viable alternative to Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Trump: House GOP's plan for border tax could create more jobs Conservatives to Congress: Get moving MORE (R-Wis.), some centrist Republicans say they’d have little choice but to seek Democratic help in electing a new Speaker.
The centrists have long chafed at House conservatives over their treatment of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Ohio). They blame the House Freedom Caucus and its antecedents for a series of government shutdown crises that have hurt the party.
“I don't see a Plan B” if Ryan refuses the job, said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
If it becomes clear that no other Republican can assemble 218 GOP votes, King added, “In that case, we would have to consider having a coalition Speaker.”
“It's a very simple question of math,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who first floated the idea of Republicans and Democrats joining together on a Speaker candidate last week.
“If there are not 218 Republican votes on the House floor, then by necessity the Democrats will have a say in who the next Speaker will be,” he said. “I still think it's a possibility.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the time that's something we don't want — it's not good,” King said of working with Democrats to elect a Speaker. “On the other hand, we can't go on forever without a Speaker.”
Such a scenario remains unlikely, even with the House GOP in apparent disarray ever since Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) decision to abruptly drop out of the race to succeed Boehner.
There have been no formal discussions between the parties about the possibility of a coalition Speaker, and some Democrats have dismissed the notion out of hand.
“It'll never happen,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said after McCarthy's announcement.
Since then, Democrats have generally played coy.
They've distanced themselves from the controversy, insisting the leadership shake-up is a GOP problem for the Republicans to solve on their own.
“Hopefully the Republicans will come to terms as to who their recommendation will be for Speaker,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last Friday. “But that's really up to them.”
Ryan could end the suspense by saying he’ll run for Speaker.
Pressure on Ryan to take the Speakership has intensified this week during the Columbus Day recess, with the Ways and Means Committee chairman hunkered down at his Janesville home, reportedly weighing his options.
Ryan has emphasized he doesn't want the job, and there’s been evident skepticism from some Republican aides and lawmakers this week that he’ll change his mind.
The whole situation has the potential to create a series of crises. The Treasury Department has set a Nov. 3 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. If Congress fails to act, it is possible the Treasury could stop making certain government payments. Congress also needs to pass a new bill to fund the government in December to prevent a shutdown.
Boehner has said he wants to leave at the end of the month, but it’s not clear that will be possible.
Meanwhile, some conservatives are sounding alarms that even Ryan may not be right wing enough to pass their tests of ideological purity.
At least one Tea Party group has launched a “Fire Paul Ryan” campaign, and members of the House Freedom Caucus — which has endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) for Speaker — have suggested they want one of their own in either the Speaker or majority leader seats.
“The top two positions are from Blue states,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told The Hill recently, referring to Boehner's Ohio and McCarthy's California. “It's time we had a red-state Republican at the top. That would be helpful.”
Republicans floating the long-shot option of a coalition Speaker say the Democrats have every reason, politically, to keep their powder dry now, but might be enticed to play ball as the process evolves.
“They see the Republican infighting and the best thing they can do right now is step aside and let us duke it out,” Dent said.
Providing some cushion, Boehner has vowed to remain in Washington until his replacement is secured — a promise that's lent hope to Democrats and some Republicans that he'll wrap up much of the unfinished business facing Congress before year's end.
“If John is willing to stay … that's fine with me,” King said. “He'd be unshackled in many ways.”
Dent agreed, quipping that Boehner's promise to remain indefinitely could come back to haunt not only the Speaker who's trying to flee town, but also those who pushed him out.
“Boehner could be here for awhile. … If I were him, I wouldn't make any plans to hit the links any time soon,” Dent said.
“The irony of the whole situation is this: The people who wanted to take John Boehner down are now getting exactly what they didn't want: John Boehner.”