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Pressure builds on Paul Ryan to run for House speaker

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — Endlessly divided, House Republicans pleaded with Rep. Paul Ryan on Friday to rescue them from their damaging leadership vacuum. But the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee showed little appetite for the prestigious yet thankless job of speaker of the House.

The Wisconsin Republican who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee — his dream job, he’s repeatedly declared — refused comment again and again as reporters chased him around the Capitol a day after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy shocked his colleagues by withdrawing from the speaker’s race moments before the vote.

McCarthy’s abrupt decision came just two weeks after the current speaker, John Boehner of Ohio, announced his own plans to resign at month’s end, citing opposition from the small but strident bloc of hardcore conservatives who almost immediately turned on McCarthy, Boehner’s No. 2.

That left Republicans in chaos, with a yawning void at the top of their leadership ladder even as they confront enormous fiscal challenges and budgetary deadlines that could threaten a government shutdown and unprecedented default in the months to come.

So GOP lawmakers, from Boehner and McCarthy on down, turned to Ryan, 45, the only figure in the House seen as having the stature, wide appeal and intelligence to lead Republicans out of the mess they’re in.

“He’d be an amazing speaker,” McCarthy declared to a bank of TV cameras after Republicans met behind closed doors to discuss their predicament. “But he’s got to decide.”

Said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, himself a potential candidate for the job: “He’s the only guy who can unite us right now.”

Not long after, Ryan rushed out of the Capitol, refusing to talk to reporters. With Congress heading into a weeklong recess, he was on his way home to Janesville, Wisconsin, to his wife and young family.

Ryan’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, said: “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker.”

Why not? Possible reasons include the presidential ambitions he may well still harbor. The speaker’s post, highly prestigious and second in line to the presidency, requires a huge commitment of time and effort in corralling a party’s House members.

Some in the hardline House Freedom Caucus, the faction of 30-plus conservatives responsible for causing much of the House’s disarray, were already registering their disapproval of Ryan. And some outside conservatives were pointing to his support for immigration legislation and the 2008 Wall Street bailout as disqualifying him for the speaker’s chair.

“I think he has the same problems” as Boehner and McCarthy, said Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona.