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?'"
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.