House Republicans return to Capitol to face leadership mess

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans return to Washington this week to confront a nearly unprecedented leadership crisis, looming budget deadlines and a deeply uncertain future.

Attention is focused on Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, who is under pressure from party leaders to run for House speaker -- a job he repeatedly has made clear he does not want.

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Even if Ryan yields to his colleagues' pleas, conservatives are increasingly serving notice that the 45-year-old House Ways and Means Committee chairman will have to audition for the job just like anyone else, despite the widespread support he has.

That suggests that the same hard-liners who pushed current Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to announce his resignation and scared off his heir apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., could throw up obstacles to Ryan, too.

It also leaves any resolution unclear for a party that seems nearly irreparably divided. More than a half-dozen lawmakers are considering running for speaker if Ryan does not, even as hard-liners warn that Boehner risks more rebellions if he stays on past his planned departure date of Oct. 29.

"John is a lame duck. There was a reason John announced his resignation," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus. "I think Paul does have the credibility across the conference to be able to unite us, but to say he's the only one I think is hyperbole."

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House Republicans return to Capitol to face leadership mess
FILE - In this July 29,2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. According to GOP lawmakers, Boehner to step down end of October. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio becomes emotional as Pope Francis appears on the Speaker's Balcony on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 and waves to the waiting crowd. The pope addressed a joint meeting of Congress before stepping out on the balcony. Between the pope and Boehner is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) speaks with Pope Francis (L) in the U.S. Capitol building before the Pontiff speaks to a joint meeting of Congress September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis will be the first Pope to ever address a joint meeting of Congress. The Pope is on a six-day trip to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo By Bill Clark-PoolGetty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. An effort by a conservative Republican to strip Boehner of his position as the top House leader is largely symbolic, but is a sign of discontent among the more conservative wing of the House GOP. On Tuesday, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who was disciplined earlier this year by House leadership, filed a resolution to vacate the chair, an initial procedural step.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this June 28, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, to talk about the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Having lost their latest war against President Barack Obamaâs health care overhaul, Republicans must decide how to wage battles that could fan the issue for the 2016 elections. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) arrives for his weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Boehner answered questions on the Republican budget, Hillary Clinton's emails, and other topics during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, kisses House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, in the Rose Garden of the White House before President Barack Obama's remarks to members of Congress, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 in Washington. Obama thanked those who supported H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 to improve the affordability and quality of health care for the youngest and oldest in the nation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference following a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Boehner said he's waiting for the Senate to act on legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department ahead of Friday's midnight deadline. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House voted last month to end Homeland Security funding on Saturday unless Obama reverses his order to protect millions of immigrants from possible deportation. After Democratic filibusters blocked the bill in the Senate, the chamber's Republican leaders agreed this week to offer a "clean" funding measure, with no immigration strings attached. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio casts multiple shadows as he leaves the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after presiding over ceremonial re-enactments of the House swearing-in ceremony. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, kisses House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. after being re-elected to a third term during the opening session of the 114th Congress, as Republicans assume full control for the first time in eight years, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 31, 2014, for final votes as Congress rushes for the doors and a five-week summer recess. The institutional split of a Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate has added up to inaction, especially in a midterm election year with control of the Senate at stake. Lawmakers have struggled to compromise on a handful of bills to deal with the nation's pressing problems amid overwhelming partisanship. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio waits to speak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, following a Republican strategy session after returning from a five-week recess. Boehner said Islamic State militants are a serious threat that must be dealt with in Iraq, Syria or wherever they exist and insisted that no decision would be made on a congressional vote until President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat the militants. Boehner and other congressional leaders are heading to the White House this afternoon for a meeting with Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio tickles John Griffin III, son of Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., outside his office, after a House vote, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner said Thursday he will give President Barack Obama a proposal temporarily extending the government's ability to borrow money and averting a potential default _ but only if he agrees to negotiate over ending a partial government shutdown and a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, joined by fellow Republicans, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, following a closed-door GOP meeting, to announce that House Republicans will advance legislation to temporarily extend the government's ability to borrow money to meet its financial obligations. From left are, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, Boehner, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas. The federal government remains partially shut down for a 10th day and faces a first-ever default between Oct. 17 and the end of the month. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a House Republican Conference meeting to discuss the ongoing budget fight, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican unity showed unmistakable signs of fraying Monday as Democrats and the White House vowed to reject tea party-driven demands to delay the nation's health care overhaul as the price for averting a partial government shutdown at midnight. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, after a closed-door strategy session. Pressure is building on fractious Republicans over legislation to prevent a partial government shutdown, as the Democratic-led Senate is expected to strip a tea party-backed plan to defund the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," from their bill. Boehner originally preferred a plan to deliver to President Obama a stopgap funding bill without the provision to eliminate the health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, leaves after a three hour photo session with members of the new 113th Congress that convened on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gestures while giving his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listen at rear. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are on the first green as they play golf at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, June 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Following a meeting with President Barack Obama today, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks about the budget, Tuesday, April 5, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., walk out to speak to reporters after their meeting at the White House in Washington with President Obama regarding the budget and possible government shutdown, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
House Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio wipes away tears as he waits to receive the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. during the first session of the 112th Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional Committee at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

"It's not just the conservatives Paul would have to convince," Mulvaney added. "Everybody's interested in a new type of leadership."

The turmoil comes as Congress confronts the need to raise the federal borrowing limit by early November or risk a market-shattering default, and delicate talks are underway to come up with a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown in two months. The task of raising the debt limit is falling to Boehner. But he will have to tread carefully, given GOP objections to an increase without concessions from President Barack Obama -- something the White House is ruling out.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, one of the Republican rebels, said he would consider forcing a vote to push Boehner out of the speaker's chair if Boehner engages in "nefarious activity." Massie defined that as "running the tables" on legislation not supported by a majority of Republicans. Boehner has suggested he wants to "clean the barn" before leaving Congress so his successor does not have a lot of unfinished business.

But Massie said he doesn't draw a "red line" at the debt limit.

The unrest in Congress coincides with a chaotic GOP presidential primary dominated by candidates far afield from the political establishment, as Republican voters push for action, change and confrontation with Obama.

It may be difficult for any House speaker to satisfy those demands, with Obama still in the White House and minority Democrats in the Senate using that chamber's rules to bottle-up legislation passed by the majority-rule House.

The job of speaker "would more or less fall in the category of thankless task, because people are not going to be in agreement with anything that a speaker does," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of the lawmakers who says she is being encouraged to consider the job.

For Ryan, who may harbor presidential ambitions, the job is unlikely to be the best stepping-stone. Only four speakers or former speakers captured their parties' presidential nominations, and just one won the White House -- former Speaker James Polk in 1844.

Already Ryan is under attack from some conservatives inside and outside Congress for his support of comprehensive immigration legislation.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Congress' leading immigration hard-liner, said Ryan would be unlikely to win support from House conservatives opposed to any "pro-amnesty" politician.

"There's definitely an undercurrent of concern among conservatives in the House that make it unlikely they would step forward and support Paul Ryan, especially in a bloc," King said.

Last week, King circulated a letter to fellow House Republicans aimed at building support for Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, the preferred candidate of the Freedom Caucus and other conservative groups in the House, including the Conservative Opportunity Society, which King heads.

"Other than one candidate dropping out, nothing has changed in the race for speaker," King's letter said. "The best candidate, Daniel Webster, is gaining momentum for his demonstrated leadership."

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