WASHINGTON – Republicans rallied behind Rep. Paul Ryan to elect him the House’s 54th speaker on Thursday as a splintered GOP turned to the youthful but battle-tested lawmaker to mend its self-inflicted wounds and craft a conservative message to woo voters in next year’s elections.
In a slow-moving roll call that mixed politics with pageantry, 236 Republicans called out the Wisconsin Republican’s name as their pick for the top job. That put Ryan second in line to the presidency and atop a chamber that has been awash in tumult ever since defiant conservatives hounded Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, into announcing his resignation from that post last month.
Just nine hard-line conservatives voted against Ryan, instead backing the little-known Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. Most of them, including members of the rebellious House Freedom Caucus, backed Ryan, though it was clear that future tensions between them and Ryan could not be discounted.
Watching the vote from the visitors’ gallery was Mitt Romney, the GOP’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential nominee who vaulted Ryan, 45, to national prominence by selecting him as his vice presidential running mate. Also in the audience were Ryan’s wife Janna and their three young children, who gained some attention after Ryan insisted he would take the time-draining speaker’s post only if he could carve out time with his family.
Before the vote, Boehner bade farewell to his colleagues after a quarter-century House career, including the last five as speaker.
“I leave with no regrets, no burdens,” said Boehner in a 10-minute speech. “If anything, I leave the way I started, just a regular guy, humbled by the chance to do a big job.”
Boehner’s valedictory did not lack his trademark tears, and he earned a bipartisan standing ovation before even starting when he pulled out a box of tissues.
Minutes earlier, Ryan’s longtime pastor sought divine guidance as the Wisconsin Republican prepared to step into one of Washington’s most taxing jobs.
“Give us the fortitude to endure when the demands of our office seem overwhelming,” said Monsignor Donn Heiar of Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., in an opening prayer. “Bless us with prudence when all pathways seem troublesome.”
Ryan planned to ask both parties for a period of healing and to focus on working families, said an aide who described the remarks on condition of anonymity ahead of the lawmaker’s acceptance speech.
“If you have ideas, let’s hear them. A greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us,” Ryan planned to say, said the aide, in what seemed a bid for GOP reconciliation.
Ryan’s ascension was coming as Congress neared completion of a bipartisan accord to avert a jarring federal default next week and likely prevent a December government shutdown by setting spending levels for the next two years.
The budget vote underscored Ryan’s challenge in leading Republicans who often have scant interest in compromise, especially with a GOP presidential contest dominated by candidates who vilify Washington insiders. Republicans opposed the budget deal by 167-79, but Democrats supported it unanimously.
Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who serves as chairwoman of the House GOP conference, nominated Ryan on the floor right before the final vote. Ryan did not seek this office, she said, the office sought him.
“We are eager for a fresh start that will make us more effective to fulfill our obligation to reflect the will of the people and to reestablish the balance of power. There’s no better person to lead us in that calling,” she said.
Conservatives complain that Boehner has been excessively powerful, forcing bills to the House floor without rank-and-filed input, dictating committee chairs and punishing rebels. One Freedom Caucus leader, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said conservatives expect Ryan to alter that.
“We’re going to have his back for the next few months and make sure that we give him the opportunity to show that he can be the leader that we hope he can be,” Labrador said.
Boehner’s resignation prompted a month of GOP turbulence after the Freedom Caucus derailed the candidacy of the heir-apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Establishment Republicans pressured a reluctant Ryan to seek the speakership, viewing him as their best shot at patching the GOP’s ragged ruptures.
The amiable Ryan has been in Congress 17 years and has strong ties with all wings of the GOP. Past chairman of the House Budget Committee and current head of the Ways and Means Committee, he has put his imprint on deficit reduction, tax, health and trade legislation – prime subjects that have raised his stature and put him at the center of many of Congress’ highest profile debates.
Many Democrats like Ryan but none is hesitating to attack him as a symbol of Republican policies they consider harsh. These include efforts to reshape Medicare into a voucher-like program, squeeze savings from Medicaid and pare taxes for the rich.
“This presents the clearest distinction of anyone they could have named: the Ryan budget,” Pelosi told reporters.
Ryan will be the youngest speaker since Rep. James Blaine, R-Maine, who was 39 when he took the job in 1869.
Kevin Graeler, a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review, contributed to this report.
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