A leading Republican congressman with allies on the right wing of the party, Paul Ryan, is weighing a bid to replace retiring U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, fellow lawmakers said on Friday as they sought to defuse a leadership battle.
Numerous House Republicans and even 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney have asked Ryan to run for speaker after the front-runner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abruptly dropped out on Thursday.
But with Congress embarking on a week-long recess, there was no sign of any move from Ryan, who was Romney's vice presidential running mate, or of any other development that could bring order to the Republican Party's disarray in the lower chamber of Congress.
Representative Ryan of Wisconsin is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and negotiated a bipartisan budget deal in 2013.
"Although he's ruled himself out, it's very clear he's reconsidering," Representative Darrell Issa of California said of Ryan as he left a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. "The fact is, his time is now."
Former Massachusetts governor Romney called Ryan to ask him to run for speaker, a source familiar with the situation said
"I wouldn't presume to tell Paul what to do, but I do know that he is a man of ideas who is driven to see them applied for the public good. Every politician tries to convince people that they are that kind of leader; almost none are - Paul is," Romney said in an emailed comment.
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Ryan's spokesman Brendan Buck noted, however, that Ryan had repeatedly said he is not seeking the speaker's job. "Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he's getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker," Buck said.
Finding a replacement for Boehner has consumed Republicans as Congress faces a series of pressing decisions, from raising the government's borrowing authority to funding federal agencies through September. Boehner announced Sept. 25 that he would leave the post on Oct. 30.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, who wants Ryan to run, said after speaking to Ryan as Ryan was preparing to catch a plane home: "He needs to talk with his family first. But I'm optimistic."
In Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, some of his constituents said they believed he would be better off staying on as head of the Ways and Means Committee and keeping a lifestyle that would still allow him to spend time with his family.
"Right now he has young kids and that has to be his top priority," said Rick Mueller, 53, who owns a printing company in the town of about 65,000 northwest of Chicago.
The speaker's job comes with a $49,500 raise and an office with one of the best views in Washington, not to mention unequalled Capitol Hill power: Whoever holds the spot is second in line, after the vice president, for the U.S. presidency.
Neighbors say Ryan, 45, is an avid hunter and regularly attends his children's' cross-country meets in Janesville.
Megan Caulfield, 51, who grew up in Ryan's neighborhood, said: "Paul doesn't strike me as a type of person to succumb to pressure but I think he would do it out of a sense of responsibility to the party and if he feels he can make progress."
Boehner made a plea for unity at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, urging members to "truly listen to each other and have an open mind about how we can come together," according to a source in the room.
"It's not helpful for one group of members to say they will only vote for this candidate on the floor," Boehner said, in apparent reference to the conservative Freedom Caucus. It has about 40 members and is aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement.
Earlier this week, the Freedom Caucus endorsed Representative Daniel Webster of Florida for speaker, raising doubts Californian McCarthy could get enough votes to win on the House floor.
Admitting he was shocked by McCarthy's sudden pullout, Boehner told Republicans he intended the election to happen before the end of October.
Among items immediately facing Congress is something Republicans generally are reluctant to do: raise the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department says the government will need to increase its borrowing limit by Nov. 5.
"The most recent development in the speaker's race plus the compressed time frame to come to a resolution increases the chances of a policy mistake around the debt ceiling," said Libby Cantrill, an analyst for Pacific Investment Management Co.
McCarthy's departure left Webster and Oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah in the race. But Chaffetz said on Friday that he, too, backed Ryan and would drop out if Ryan changed his mind.
Hours before McCarthy withdrew from the race Thursday, some Republicans received emails accusing McCarthy of an affair with Republican Representative Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, two lawmakers told Reuters. McCarthy has denied that any personal misdeeds were behind his decision to quit the race. Ellmers condemned "false accusations" in a statement released Friday.
"As someone who has been targeted by completely false accusations and innuendo, I have been moved by the outpouring of support and prayers from my colleagues, constituents and friends. Now I will be praying for those who find it acceptable to bear false witness," Ellmers' statement said.