Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers late Tuesday that he will run for speaker, but only if they embrace him by week's end as their consensus candidate — an ambitious bid to impose unity on a disordered and divided House.
Dragged into seeking a job he never wanted, Ryan spoke to his colleagues behind closed doors, telling them he would run only with the endorsement of the major caucuses in the House, essentially giving the hard-line Freedom Caucus veto power.
"What I told members is if you can agree to these requests and if I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve, and if I am not unifying, that is fine as well. I will be happy to stay where I am," Ryan told a press conference afterward.
The 45-year-old Ryan gave his colleagues until Friday to express their support. The question will be whether he can win over the three dozen or so members of the Freedom Caucus, who drove Boehner to announce his resignation on Sept. 25 by threatening a floor vote on his speakership and pushed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy into abruptly withdrawing from the race to replace him on Oct. 8.
The surprise decisions by Boehner and McCarthy unexpectedly cast Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, into the role of savior of the House GOP, the only figure with the national profile, stature and broad popularity to unite a caucus divided against itself, at a moment of deep turmoil.
Boehner is expected to announce on Wednesday the date for Republicans to nominate their candidate for speaker. It is not clear whether Boehner will have to delay his retirement until his successor is installed by the full House.
If Ryan decides at week's end not to run for speaker, it is unclear who would emerge as a front-runner.
He has consistently said he does not want to be speaker and would prefer to stay on as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which he has described as his dream job.
He would face a Congress hurtling toward an early November deadline to raise the federal borrowing limit or invite a first-ever default, and a deadline to pass spending legislation or risk a government shutdown will follow in early December. A fight over implementing President Barack Obama's health care law sparked a 16-day shutdown two years ago.
Ryan's announcement was met warmly by many lawmakers. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he was abandoning his candidacy for the job and would back Ryan.
"I'm out and am in with Paul. He's the right person at the right time," Chaffetz said.
But members of the Freedom Caucus remained to be convinced.
"I think he has to campaign for it. We've heard one speech," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. "We're willing to listen, but it's the beginning of the conversation, as far as I'm concerned."
Ryan enumerated conditions under which he would serve, all of them aimed at clearing an atmosphere of constant chaos and crisis in the House for the past several years as a large group of tea-party-backed lawmakers pushed for confrontation with the White House and demanded changes that the strictures of divided government never could deliver.
He said he encourages changes to rules and procedures — something eagerly sought by members of the Freedom Caucus who claim they have been shut out of legislating in the House. But he said any such changes must be made as a team, with input from all.
Ryan also sought a change in the process for motions to vacate the chair — the procedure conservatives threatened against Boehner, which would have resulted in a floor vote on his speakership and ultimately drove him to resign.
"He said he's willing to take arrows in his chest, but not in his back," said Rep. Peter King of New York.
Ryan made clear to lawmakers that his family comes first. He has three school-age children in Janesville, Wisconsin, and wants to be able to continue to spend plenty of time with them.
Al Jazeera with wire services