By Scott Wong - 10/29/15 10:36 AM EDT
Lawmakers on Thursday elected Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanHouse Democrats hit with ethics complaint over sit-in Pelosi urges Dems to hold sit-ins in their districts this week Ryan: GOP won't 'tolerate' another sit-in MORE the 54th Speaker of the House, ending weeks of uncertainty over who would lead the raucous 247-member GOP conference after John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBenghazi Blues If 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? Cameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in MORE’s surprise resignation.
On a day filled with pomp and excitement, the Wisconsin Republican received 236 votes for Speaker — more than the 218 needed to win on the first ballot. His only challenger, little-known Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), whom Ryan defeated in an internal GOP election Wednesday, received nine votes from conservatives on the floor.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former Speaker herself and the person who presented the gavel to Ryan Thursday, received 184 votes, all from Democrats.
Webster did not vote, nor did Ryan.
Three Democrats, including two of the most vulnerable in her conference, defected. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Gwen Graham (Fla.), who are both GOP targets.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a conservative-leaning Blue Dog, voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Synema opted for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon; while Graham chose Cooper.
The chamber erupted into hearty applause as Ryan stepped up to the Speaker's rostrum. He shook hands with Boehner, who then gave the House a thumbs-up before moving to the back of the chamber.
The Ohio Republican became visibly emotional as Pelosi delivered a tribute speech. His frequent negotiator — and sometimes rival — called him a "formidable spokesman for the Republican agenda."
“John Boehner, you are the personification of the American dream,” she told the outgoing Speaker, the son of a barkeep from Reading, Ohio.
After Pelosi passed him the gavel, Ryan delivered a short but lofty speech declaring a new day in Congress.
“Let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them,” he said. “And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores.
“We are wiping the slate clean.”
Ryan’s election gives House Republicans a chance to hit the reset button. Throughout Boehner’s nearly five years as Speaker, centrist members and Tea Party conservatives were at war with each other over policy and tactics.
Now, it’s all Ryan’s problem.
He has made peace with conservative hard-liners for now, saying he’s open to rules changes that will bring more rank-and-file members into the decision-making process. And Boehner helped “clean out the barn” for Ryan this week, ensuring his successor won’t face any major fiscal crises until after the 2016 election.
“If he’s committed to the process changes that he’s espoused, a honeymoon could last well into the first and second anniversary,” said conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who authored a resolution this summer that sparked a debate over whether to oust Boehner from power.
“If the actions follow the rhetoric we’ve heard, it will be a monumental and historic time for the Hill and the way we do business.”
In private meetings, Ryan has told members of the conservative Freedom Caucus he won’t engage in any retaliation against fellow Republicans — a move for which Boehner had famously been known.
And the new Speaker told all of his colleagues Wednesday that he wants the conference to figure out how to reorganize the Steering Committee by Thanksgiving.
The powerful panel determines which members get committee gavels and committee slots.
“There is a lot of goodwill, a lot of hope,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who like Meadows is a leader of the 40-member Freedom Caucus. “However, there’s not a lot of trust between conservatives and those who’ve been involved in leadership, and Paul has not been directly involved in leadership but he’s close to leadership.”
Before his election, Ryan was spotted on the first floor of the Capitol, sharing a few laughs with his old boss, former Rep. Sam Brownback, now the Republican governor of Kansas. He hugged family members, friends and staffers.
Asked by The Hill how he was feeling, the Wisconsin Republican replied: “Great!”
Brownback said he was very proud of Ryan, noting that his former House legislative director has the “right skill set for the moment.”
“This is a difficult time and he’s got great relational skills,” Brownback said. “He’s an honest guy, a good family man, strong faith, believes in everybody no matter who they are.”
Ryan’s wife, Janna, and their three children — ages 13, 12 and 10 — looked on from the Speaker’s Box, as did 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. Mitt Romney tapped Ryan as his vice presidential running mate that summer.
“It’s a big day for Paul. Paul is the best,” Romney said as left the Capitol and hopped into a black Suburban.
At just 45, Ryan, a fitness fanatic known for his grueling P90X morning workouts, is the youngest Speaker in roughly 150 years. He also the first to hail from the Badger State and the first to jump directly from Ways and Means Committee chairman to the Speaker’s office.
Ryan is the third consecutive Catholic Speaker; both Boehner and Pelosi are lifelong, practicing Catholics.
Thursday marks the fifth time in the last century the House has voted to elect a new Speaker midway through a term.
And while the vote was overwhelming, Ryan has made clear he never wanted the job in the first place.
His path to the Speaker’s office was a strange one. A day after Pope Francis addressed Congress last month, Boehner abruptly announced he was calling it quits, not even halfway through his third term.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 2 leader in the House, was the odds-on favorite to succeed Boehner. But he made a major gaffe on TV, raising questions from many Republicans about whether he was ready for prime time.
On the day of the internal GOP election, McCarthy stood before his colleagues and announced he was dropping out of the race, with no clear path to get to 218 votes on the House floor.
After long deliberations with his family and top advisers, as well several meetings with conservative lawmakers, Ryan reluctantly said he was in.
In an interview, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), one of Ryan’s closest friends in Congress, called it a “good day.”
“I’m not sure he really wanted to reach this [pinnacle],” Hensarling said, “but the republic needed him and he’s answering its call.”
After a quarter-century career in Congress, Boehner now returns to private life. He is submitting letters to Ryan and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former House GOP colleague, informing them that his resignation is effective Friday.
Boehner will fly back to Ohio that same day.
Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis contributed. This story was updated at 4:03 p.m.