Paul Ryan's tenure as speaker of the House could end sooner than he originally thought, with legislative failures mounting and the Republican conference continuing to fracture.
Ryan has maintained that he will "run through the tape" and stay on as speaker until the new Congress arrives in January.
Republicans have grown uneasy with Ryan, as evidenced by revolts among House conservatives and moderates openly disobeying the speaker.
WASHINGTON — When House Speaker Paul Ryan informed the Republican Conference in April that he would not seek reelection in 2018, he hammered in the point to his colleagues that he would "run through the tape" and hold the gavel until the new Congress arrives in January. The growing problem for Ryan is that the tape might be much closer than he originally thought.
Behind the scenes, potential replacements for the House GOP's top spot are strategizing and discussing options.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the heir apparent, despite dropping out of the speaker's race in 2015, which ultimately led to Ryan reluctantly taking the gavel. Ryan publicly backed McCarthy as the logical successor in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC, saying, "We all think that Kevin is the right person."
McCarthy is entertaining the prospect of forcing an early leadership race and having Ryan step down before the election, the Weekly Standard reported on Sunday. Monday afternoon, McCarthy tried to tamper rumors of a coup, telling reporters that reports he told White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney about an idea to force a speaker vote this year are unfounded.
"Look, Mulvaney and I are long-time friends," McCarthy said. 'The only thing Mulvaney has ever talked about was, 'Are you going to run for speaker if we keep the majority?'"
Paul Ryan through his career
Paul Ryan through his career
Speaker of the House Denis Hastert (L) administers the oath of office to Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin as his family looks on January 6, 1999 at the start of the 106th Congress. The oath is a recreation as the formal oath is administered to the entire congress as a body on the floor of the House. (photo by Rex Banner)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 12: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a news conference in which House Republican leaders called for Permanent Tax Relief. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
KRT US NEWS STORY SLUGGED: SOCIALSECURITY-DISCUSSION KRT PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BRIDGES/KRT (April 14) Conversation on Social Security between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), shown, and William Novelli, head of AARP, April 5, 2005 (lde) 2005 (Photo by George Bridges/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 22: MEDICARE BRIEFING--Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., speaks at a Cato Institute briefing on Medicare reform in the Rayburn House Office Building. Tom Miller, director of Health Policy Studies at Cato, looks on. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) questions Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, during a hearing on Capitol Hill about the impact of recent market turmoil on the federal budget on September 24, 2008 in Washington, DC. Orszag reported that while the impact is currently unknown, it is likely to be substantially less than $700 billion. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 27: House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) delivers an opening statement during a conference committee meeting with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) (L) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) in the U.S. Capitol April 27, 2009 in Washington, DC. House and Senate lawmakers have already struck a tentative deal on the FY2010 budget resolution and they hope to file a conference report after today's meeting. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: (L-R) U.S. House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) listen during a news conference on the health care legislation March 19, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House will vote on the Health Care Reform Legislation on Sunday, March 21. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. U.S. House Republicans today unveiled a plan to overhaul the federal budget and slash the deficit in coming years by about three-quarters, with a $6-trillion cut in spending and 25 percent cap on tax rates. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) left, and moderator David Gregory, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, April 10, 2011. (Photo by William B. Plowman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 01: Republican Presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) jokes with U.S. Rep Paul Ryan (C) (R-WI) during a pancake brunch at Bluemound Gardens on April 1, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With less than a week before the Wisconsin primary, Mitt Romney continues to campaign through the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is introduced before speaking about 'America's Enduring Promise,' and the federal budget, in a speech at Georgetown University April 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. During his speech, Ryan said that his proposed budget confronts the nation's growing $15 trillion debt before it impacts future generations of Americans. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NORFOLK, VA - AUGUST 11: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) jokes with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) after announcing him as the 'next PRESIDENT of the United States' during an event announcing him as his running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. Ryan, a seven term congressman, is Chairman of the House Budget Committee and provides a strong contrast to the Obama administration on fiscal policy. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 14: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Vice Presidential candidate, waves to the crowd after addressing the Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
NEWPORT NEWS, VA - SEPTEMBER 18: Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), pauses as he speaks during a campaign rally at Christopher Newport University September 18, 2012 in Newport News, Virginia. Ryan continued to campaign for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) hugs waitress, Lourdes Alcerro, during a campaign stop at Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood on September 22, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Ryan continues to campaign for votes across the country. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) and running-mate Paul Ryan share a laugh as they are introduced at a campaign rally September 25, 2012 at Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, arrives at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan said he'd be willing to run for speaker of the U.S. House if Republicans unify behind him now, end leadership crises and let him continue spending time with his family. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, center right, walks down the steps of the U.S. Capitol building following a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Ryan is under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to run for U.S. House speaker after a hard-line faction forced Speaker John Boehner to resign and his top lieutenant to drop out of the race. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, walks to a meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan is set to meet with a group of House conservatives Tuesday as he weighs a potential run to replace Speaker John Boehner under pressure from fellow Republicans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, center, talks to the media after walking out of the U.S. Capitol building following a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Ryan is under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to run for U.S. House speaker after a hard-line faction forced Speaker John Boehner to resign and his top lieutenant to drop out of the race. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 20 - Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a news conference following a House Republican meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan is stating that he will run for speaker only if he receives enough GOP support by the end of the week. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, awaits the arrival of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for a meeting at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, December 10, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 10: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill on December 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Paul Ryan spoke on topics including Donald Trump and the spending bill. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, (R-WI) speaks during a Politico interview at the Grand Hyatt on December 15, 2015 in Washington DC. Ryan was interviewed by Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen during a Politico Playbook Breakfast. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) holds ceremonial swearing-in for Representative-elect Ralph Norman (R-SC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks after Senate Republicans unveiled their version of legislation that would replace Obamacare on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan introduces his new tax policy at the National Association of Manufacturers Summit in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visits members of the Republican team prior to the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the press about President Donald Trump, former FBI Director James Comey and Russia investigations as Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) looks on after a closed meeting of the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with members of the Republican Congressional leadership at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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Another contender is House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, though he has said he would not run against McCarthy, should a formal race develop.
In addition to McCarthy and Scalise, far-right groups are organizing to encourage Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a longtime conservative leader in the House, to run for speaker. More than 100 leaders of conservative groups sent a letter to Jordan on Monday insisting he run.
"We petition you to declare yourself a candidate for Speaker of the House immediately and to begin offering a platform that will inspire and engage millions of Americans," the letter read. "What is needed now — not just in this fall’s congressional elections, but for years to come — is the reliable promise that the people’s interest will govern, not the Swamp and its bureaucratic-industrial complex."
Ryan's power is dwindling
At the forefront, the lower chamber's Republicans are fracturing off in open displays of rebellion against Ryan.
While the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus has always been a thorn in leadership's side, moderates are now breaking the mold and tacking their names onto a discharge petition that would force a vote on several different immigration reform bills.
So far, 20 Republicans have signed the discharge petition. Assuming every Democrat adds their name as well, only five more Republicans are needed to disobey Ryan and upend the floor schedule.
Ryan is having more trouble containing dissenting voices in the conference since announcing his retirement. He failed to secure passage of the farm bill last Friday, dealing a severe blow.
Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, a Freedom Caucus member who often breaks with leadership, said moderates are defying Ryan because "the politics up here is broken."
"And the speaker promised the Hastert rule — majority of majority — so they can't do this under regular order," Brat said. "So why is it happening? Because they're opposing their leadership, they're opposing their conference, etc."
Brat added that Ryan "cannot be forced into allowing the discharge to happen."
"All leadership has to do is put [The Goodlatte-McCaul immigration bill] on the floor and the discharge goes bye-bye," he said.
Scalise told reporters on Monday that the Goodlatte-McCaul immigration bill will get a floor vote during a to-be-determined day in the third week of June, right before a re-vote on the farm bill on Monday, June 25.
But Rep. Ryan Costello, a moderate Pennsylvania Republican retiring in 2018 and one of the initial signees of the discharge petition, said the effort has only been emboldened in recent days.
"Going along to get along only gets you so far when they keep doing the same things, so you gotta press your button, right?" Costello said.
Costello added that while he still believes Ryan should remain on as speaker, he admitted the task would not be without its challenges.
"I have a great deal of respect for a lot of my colleagues that are in the Freedom Caucus," he said. "I've yet to see any leader corral them to do anything they don't wanna do."
While the various factions in the House Republican Conference are increasingly splitting apart, at the end of the day, the scheming and plotting for leadership positions might be a relatively fruitless exercise. If Democrats manage to retake the majority, which has eluded them for eight years, the speaker's gavel might just be held by a new Republican for only a few months.