Paul Ryan Elected Speaker of the House
With great fanfare and little surprise, Paul Ryan was elected and sworn in Thursday morning as the next speaker of the House of Representatives.
Ryan’s path to holding the speaker’s gavel was far from typical. The nine-term congressman, first elected in 1998, has twice been a committee chairman, leading the budget and powerful ways and means panels, and he was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012. Despite that, Ryan always insisted he didn’t want to be speaker and never campaigned for the job.
But when John Boehner announced his resignation last month and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy left the race to replace him, fellow party members called on Ryan to step up. After deep consultation with his family and advisers, the Wisconsin lawmaker said two weeks ago he would serve, but only if the fractured Republican conference united behind him.
As conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in her speech nominating Ryan: “I can say in all candor he did not seek this office. The office sought him.”
On Thursday, Ryan showed just how unifying a figure he might be. An overwhelming number of Republicans, 236 out of 247, voted for him. Only nine GOP members backed another candidate, Florida Rep. Daniel Webster. Neither Ryan nor Webster voted, but Boehner cast the final vote in the winner’s favor.
In his departing words, Boehner praised his successor, who volunteered for the Ohio Republican while a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in the early 1990s. Boehner joked that the young Ryan probably couldn’t even pronounce his name back then.
“Paul is being called to serve, and I know he will serve that calling with grace and energy,” he said.
In his own speech following the vote, Ryan reiterated that he had never wanted the top leadership position in the chamber, preferring only to serve in the House, an institution he called “exhilarating” and a place where “you could improve people’s lives.” He was also clear about the problems that have plagued the chamber, and his goals for changing it.
“Let’s be frank: The House is broken,” Ryan said. “We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.”
Ryan then publicly stated the pitch that he privately used in recent weeks to win broad support among his colleagues: returning to “regular order,” empowering individual members and letting committees retake the lead in drafting legislation.
“We are the body closest to the people,” he said. “Every two years, we face the voters—and sometimes face the music. But we do not echo the people. We represent them. We are supposed to study up and do the homework that they cannot do. So when we do not follow regular order—when we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand—we are not doing our job. Only a fully functioning House can truly represent the people.”
His speech was interrupted by multiple standing ovations, with loud cheers coming from the Republican side of the chamber. In addition to the supportive words from Boehner, Ryan won praise from his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who spoke briefly before handing him the gavel she once held.
Pelosi called him the “proud son of Wisconsin,” and praised his “full breadth of experience on Capitol Hill,” from his early days as a staffer to being “a sincere and proud advocate for his point of view as chairman of the Budget Committee, as a respected chairman of Ways and Means.”
Across the Capitol, Ryan received praise from both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. McConnell said on the Senate floor that Ryan is “one of the most respected guys around here. Everyone knows he’s smart. Everyone knows he’s serious.” Reid called him “a smart and dedicated leader who is deeply committed to his country and his family.” But Reid also mentioned the deep policy differences his fellow Democrats have with Ryan, and said they will continue to fight for their priorities.
Ryan ascends to the speakership after a tumultuous 10 months for House Republicans. The three dozen or so members of the Freedom Caucus, which formed in January, banded together often this year to push their conservative principles, clashing with leadership, jamming up legislation and raising questions over whether the conference was governable. Ultimately, those fights led Boehner to announce his retirement amid concerns that Freedom Caucus members would attempt to remove him from his post.
In the time since he formally announced he would run to succeed Boehner, Ryan met with those lawmakers several times, discussing their concerns and ways to change how business is conducted in the House. Ultimately, the vast majority of them backed him for the top job.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, voted for Ryan, as did Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Huelskamp, Raul Labrador, Mick Mulvaney, Mark Meadows, and other prominent member of the group. Only a few Freedom Caucus members were among the nine Republicans who voted against Ryan.
Huelskamp voted for Webster in the conference nominating election Wednesday and didn’t announce his Thursday vote until he cast it on the House floor. He cited several reasons for switching his support: Ryan’s willingness not to change the “motion to vacate” (a procedure to remove the speaker) and his promises to only allow legislation that has backing from a “majority of the majority” and to stop retribution against members who cast unpopular vote.
“Now Paul Ryan has 14 months to prove he can be a Speaker for the future, not of the past,” Huelskamp said in a statement.
In accepting the gavel, Ryan echoed the desire to move forward.
“We will not always agree—not all of us, not all of the time,” Ryan said. “But we should not hide our disagreements. We should embrace them. We have nothing to fear from honest differences honestly stated. If you have ideas, let’s hear them. I believe a greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us.”
Ryan ended by saying his colleagues had done him “a great honor” in elevating him, and the American people had done them all a great honor by allowing them to serve in the House.
“Let’s seize the moment,” he said. “Let’s rise to the occasion. And when we are done, let us say we left the people—all the people—more united, happy, and free.”