• Waiting on Paul Ryan
  • October 26, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • There is a scene from Star Wars where Princess Leia records a plea for help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. In it she says, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” As Paul Ryan left Washington last week, many in the House GOP conference were sending a similar message - “Help us Paul Ryan, you’re our only hope.”

    Even as the House Ways and Means chairman repeatedly declared he would not seek the speaker’s gavel, rank-and-file members were relentless. House Speaker John Boehner approached him. Many members dropped his name on cable news and hailed him as the only man for the job.

    Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told reporters that if Ryan jumped in, he’d happily step aside from his own planned run. It certainly created at least the illusion in Washington that Ryan could single-handedly bring the GOP back together.

    “I think he can unite the conference as well as anybody can,” says Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member close with Boehner who has encouraged Ryan to run. “He is also pragmatic, so if you want someone who is going to play fast and loose with keeping the government open or defaulting on the debt, you are going to have some disagreements.”

    As Budget chairman, Ryan earned the respect of some of his party’s most conservative members in the early days of the tea party by authoring waste-slashing budgets. Stylistically, Ryan’s upheld many of those relationships and he’s earned a reputation of being a frank and honest negotiator.

    However, it isn’t necessarily smooth sailing with some of the most conservative members of the House. The Murray-Ryan budget deal of 2013 was strongly opposed by conservatives inside and outside of Congress. Heritage Action and the Club for Growth opposed it, and in the end 62 House Republicans voted against it.

    Earlier this year, Ryan’s conference was once again divided over his efforts to grant the president fast-track authority on a historic trade agreement. The bill gave Congress a voice, but only an up-or-down vote. For months, Ryan orchestrated listening sessions to attract support for the trade deal and educate members on what they were considering, and he lobbied them in one-on-one meetings. The exercise reaffirmed Ryan’s ability to convince a large swath of his conference, but Ryan was not able to unite everyone. Some conservatives dismissed the deal on the basis that it empowered President Obama. Others rejected it because of conservative news reports indicating that the trade deal was full of changes to immigration policies. Even Ryan could not quell all those concerns.

    Those in the establishment see Ryan as the most likely unifier. They point to his accomplishments in Congress and his uncanny ability to explain and convert members on complicated policy proposals. But the Freedom Caucus may not be any more willing to swallow political reality with Ryan at the helm than they were with Boehner as speaker.

    Already, members are calling on speaker candidates to make a slew of impossible promises. Members want the next speaker to promise not to punish members who vote against the party line in the Rules Committee or on the floor.

    Whether or not Ryan could unite the GOP will depend first on whether he is actually willing to run for Speaker. As of Friday morning, the GOP conference continues to wait.