Paul Ryan’s political purgatory

Paul Ryan’s political purgatory
© Greg Nash

Republicans say retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington MORE is in political purgatory as he grapples with a failed farm bill, a revolt by moderates on immigration and threats from conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus.

Ryan has been adamant he has no desire or plans to resign the Speakership before his scheduled January departure, but some Republicans think he’d like to leave earlier.

They say the Wisconsin Republican is trapped on Capitol Hill because his hand-picked successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King defends remarks on rape, incest Omar says US should reconsider aid to Israel I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King MORE (R-Calif.), can’t secure the 218 votes he needs to be elected Speaker in a floor vote.

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“The Speaker has demonstrated that he’s fully supportive of McCarthy. It’s easy to speculate that once McCarthy has the votes, the Speaker would vacate” the office, one GOP lawmaker close to Ryan and McCarthy told The Hill on Wednesday.

Added a second GOP lawmaker: “You are supposed to go once you quit, and somebody else comes in, and a transition happens pretty immediately. Now, it’s kind of a wait-and-see. He’s in a bad situation, no question about it.”

It’s created a messy situation for Ryan, McCarthy and the entire GOP conference, who are seeking to bridge divisions within a raucous conference with a lame-duck leader and dozens of lawmakers worried about the midterm elections.

Ryan and his allies argue that the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate and former Ways and Means Committee chairman wants to “run through the tape” and finish the House GOP's election-year agenda, including the five-year farm bill, a defense-policy bill, opioids legislation, permanent tax cuts and a government-funding bill in September.

“Obviously I serve at the pleasure of the members. Those are the people who drafted me in this job in the first place,” Ryan told reporters this week. “But I think we all agree, the best thing for us is to complete our agenda and not wedge into the middle of the completion of our agenda divisive leadership elections.”

They also say Ryan, a prolific fundraiser, can help the GOP at a time when it needs to raise every dollar it can to protect its majority.

Ryan allies say that calling a leadership election now would only tear the 235-member GOP conference apart. He’s the only figure with the gravitas to pacify the warring factions of the party ahead of November’s midterms, said Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsNate McMurray launches second challenge against GOP Rep. Chris Collins Michael Caputo eyes congressional bid House ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers MORE (R-N.Y.).

And no one, at least right now, could muster the 218 votes to replace him if Ryan did step down.

“I couldn’t imagine the turmoil if somehow we tried to — on top of everything else — elect a new Speaker with 218 votes,” Collins said. “It’s just improbable.”

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Ben Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' MORE (R-N.C.) and the House Freedom Caucus are withholding their support for McCarthy, perhaps until after the fall elections when the group is expected to have a stronger hand.

If the GOP keeps its majority, Republicans are expected to lose seats, with most of the losses coming from the moderate wing of the conference. This would bolster the strength of conservatives if the GOP holds the majority.

If Republicans lose control of the House, emboldened conservatives could make a case to throw out all of the leadership team and elect an entirely new group.

Meadows predicted that if McCarthy, or another leadership hopeful, could secure the support of 218 Republicans, that lawmaker would likely seek to push Ryan out before January. But Meadows said no one will be able to secure the necessary votes to become Speaker until after the New Year.

“There’s no one who has 218 votes,” Meadows has repeatedly told reporters for weeks.

Some centrist GOP lawmakers agree.

“There is a recognition that Kevin can’t get to 218,” said one centrist GOP lawmaker. “You’ve already seen it once; the votes were not there on the floor. That is still the situation and I don’t know that that dynamic has changed at all.”

McCarthy has said there will be no race for Speaker until Ryan resigns and that’s why he has not officially announced a bid for the top post.

Despite Ryan’s insistence that he will complete his term, a handful of Republicans are convinced he’ll have to leave before January simply because of mounting political pressure from those unwilling to follow a lame-duck Speaker.

“There is a movement to make a change,” said one Republican lawmaker who is usually close to leadership. “We have to find the right venue for him to leave.”

Asked if he thought Ryan would be gone before January, the lawmaker replied: “Yes. Before January? Yes.”

Ryan’s drawn-out exit strategy marks a sharp contrast from that of his predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom MORE (R-Ohio), who left Congress roughly one month after announcing his intent to step down in the middle of the term.

The short window freed BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom MORE to reach across the aisle and forge major legislative agreements with President Obama without fear of political repercussions — a process he famously referred to as “cleaning the barn.” It also guaranteed that the fight to find his replacement would run no more than a few weeks, thereby limiting the public focus on the party’s internal divisions.

Ryan’s timeline is much different. In announcing his retirement in mid-April, he insisted on staying through the full term, which ends in early January. The decision means Ryan will occupy lame-duck status for almost nine months — a lengthy span to a fill the power vacuum he’s created while maintaining control of an already divisive GOP conference.

Some of the Speaker’s staunchest allies say they hope Ryan’s exit from Congress is more dignified than that of his predecessor.

“I know it makes a lot of fodder for the media to talk about Ryan’s demise, but I say that he has the support of the great majority of the conference. We want him to stick around,” said retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenRepublican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Fla.), who has served nearly two decades in Congress with Ryan.

“Maybe folks are interested to see who will take his place, but he’s a prolific fundraiser, he unites us, he goes on TV and makes us proud. I hope Speaker Ryan takes one for the team and sticks this out no matter the slings and arrows that are being flung at him."

“I love Speaker Ryan,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I want him to end his term with dignity and respect that he has earned. He’s a good man.”