The hardline House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday it is supporting Rep. Paul Ryan for speaker of the House, all but guaranteeing he'll get the job.
The group of around three dozen rebellious conservatives, who have caused fits for the GOP leadership, stressed that their support for Ryan was not an official endorsement because it couldn't muster the 80 percent agreement such an announcement would require.
"A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan's bid to become the next Speaker of the House," the group said in a statement. "Paul is a policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects, and he has promised to be an ideas-focused Speaker who will advance limited government principles and devolve power to the membership.
“While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan's preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our conference in due time,” the caucus said. “We all know that Washington needs to change the way it does business, and we look forward to working with Paul and all our colleagues to enact process reforms that empower individual representatives and restore respect to our institution.”
Ryan, in a statement, called the support from a supermajority of the conservative Freedom Caucus "a positive step toward a unified Republican team." He said he also looked forward to hearing from two other House Republican groups by the end of the week; both are expected to back him.
Support from the group was not certain since they've repeatedly opposed GOP leaders and pushed the current speaker, John Boehner, to announce his resignation.
Several members of the group had raised concerns about Ryan. But after meeting behind closed doors Wednesday night, the lawmakers emerged to say they would support him.
The Wisconsin congressman, a reluctant candidate for the post, was asked to run by mainstream party leaders seeking to resolve a crisis set in motion when compromise-averse conservatives pushed Boehner to resign and then pressured his likely successor into withdrawing.
The same intraparty divide is roiling the Republicans' presidential campaign, with outsiders led by Donald Trump dominating the field for months.
On Wednesday, some House members took issue with Ryan's suggested changes to congressional rules and even his desire to balance family life with the demands of the job.
"No other speaker candidate came in and said here's the list of my demands, either meet those or I'm not going to do this," Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a member of the hardline caucus, complained the day after Ryan outlined the conditions for his candidacy. "Speaker's a big job. And it's not a 9-to-5 job. So there are a lot of questions to be answered."
Ryan began making the rounds to the three major House caucuses whose endorsements he is seeking as a condition for running for speaker. It's a job the 45-year-old never wanted but is exploring, he says, out of a sense of duty after Boehner announced his resignation and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly withdrew from the running to replace him.
Ryan has made clear that he does not want to be the latest victim of Republican dysfunction and will run only if it becomes clear he can unify the House GOP.
"I won't be the third log on the bonfire," he said.
Boehner, who hopes to leave Congress at the end of this month, sought to move the process forward, scheduling secret-ballot House GOP elections for Oct. 28, to be followed by a floor vote in the full House the next day.
Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, initially endorsed by the Freedom Caucus at the outset of the speaker’s race, told Newsmax late Wednesday that he would remain a candidate for the position.
“No other candidate who has put forward their name for speaker has committed to governing in a principled, member-driven manner,” he said. “I am running for speaker because the transformation of the way we do business is possible if we seize this opportunity.”
The Republican Party infighting, which has been on the boil even before Boehner's retirement announcement last month, has overshadowed a stark deadline Congress faces.
If Congress fails to increase the federal government's statutory debt limit by Nov. 3, the Treasury Department has warned of possible catastrophic consequences that could lead to a historic default.
A default, which Boehner wants to avoid before he leaves office, could shake financial markets and the economy, but the Republican-controlled Congress had no clear plan yet to prevent it.
For now, the House Republican leadership has not settled on when it would vote to raise the debt limit or what would be in a bill dealing with it. "We're talking a lot about it right now," McCarthy told Reuters.
Earlier on Wednesday, the House, in a partisan vote, passed a Republican bill requiring the Treasury to keep borrowing to pay the principal and interest on certain obligations if the debt exceeds the statutory limit.
While the Freedom Caucus is relatively new, having organized early this year, hard line conservatives - many of them small-government Tea Party activists - have had an outsized influence on major fiscal decisions since 2011, when Republicans took control of the House from Democrats.
Since then, the House has repeatedly flirted with a default on Washington's financial obligations. Conservatives forced a 17-day government shutdown in 2013 as they tried to kill the landmark healthcare law known as Obamacare.
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