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Ex-GOP rep: Ryan avoids Speakership to protect shot at higher office

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has everything to lose, politically speaking, if he accepts the Speaker’s gavel in the wake of John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) imminent resignation, a former GOP lawmaker warns.

Ex-Rep. Trey Radel, a Florida Republican who resigned from Congress last year after a drug conviction, said a Ryan Speakership might rescue the party from its current upheaval in the short term, but it would diminish any shot the Wisconsin budget wonk has of seeking higher office.

“Paul Ryan has the ability to bring people together,” Radel said Friday in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “But there’s also a much, much bigger picture to this that will not be talked about. And that’s, what are Paul Ryan’s plans for the future? Will he some day go back to Wisconsin to run for governor? Does he want to run for president some day?

{mosads}”Because if he becomes Speaker of the House, he’s becoming essentially the spokesperson for Congress, which has an approval rating somewhere between a colonoscopy and a root canal.”

Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate and now chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want the Speaker position, which opens up when Boehner leaves Congress a move scheduled for Oct. 30.

But Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) surprise decision Friday to step out of the Speakership race has left the party scrambling to find an alternative with the political skills and conservative chops to unite the sharply fractured GOP conference. Ryan’s name is at the top of the list, and leading Republicans — including Boehner and McCarthy — have urged him to step into the void.

“You know what, he needs to do this for the team,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel, said Friday.

Ryan, for his part, has pushed back hard against the notion that he’ll be Boehner’s replacement, and, on Friday, a Ryan spokesman reiterated that he’s “still not running for Speaker.”

One reason for the reluctance is that Ryan, as Ways and Means chief, is uniquely positioned to craft the tax reforms that have long been at the top of his legislative wish list. Accepting the Speaker position would shift that power to someone else.

The 45-year-old Ryan has also cited his young family as a reason he doesn’t want the job, which necessarily requires long days on the road to raise money for the party.

“He’d do a tremendous job, but he’s got small kids,” McCarthy acknowledged Friday.

Asked who else is a viable candidate, McCarthy said only that “the conference will decide.”

“A lot of people will look at it,” he said. “We’ve got some great people who can do the job.”

He didn’t say who.

Radel suggested there’s a third reason: A fear that taking the reins of a GOP conference that some say is impossible to manage would tarnish his image and ruin any political ambitions he might have for the future.

“If he becomes the Speaker of the House, this probably will not play too well for him politically down the road,” Radel said. “Because my contention is that no matter what happens, he’s going to have a grace period, and he will be able to bring people together — and Paul’s a great guy. I think he’ll be able to work with Democrats as well. But in the end, this is a pretty tough position for anyone with political aspirations to be in.”

Radel was arrested for attempting to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer in Washington in October of 2013. He pled guilty to possession of the drug a month later and resigned from Congress in January of 2014.

Radel, whose record was expunged in late 2014, now runs a crisis management firm. He freely acknowledged that his wrongdoing hasn’t helped improve Congress’s low image among voters.

“Lord knows my own shortcomings helped with that,” he told Hayes.

Tags House GOP House GOP leadership John Boehner Kevin McCarthy Paul Ryan Speaker race Trey Radel

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