Doug Mills/The New York Times
Republican Representative Paul Ryan was the focus of speculation Friday.
WASHINGTON — In some ways, it was like any other Friday at the Capitol. Rows of SUVs parked on the plaza, ready to whisk members of Congress to the airport as they head home. Throngs of tourists posed for selfies among bronze and marble statues of long-dead prominent Americans.
But this was no normal day. Members of Congress left town for a 10-day recess on Friday with a fundamental question hanging in the air — who would be the next House speaker? — and the rest of Washington and the nation waiting for an answer.
The day after GOP Representative Kevin McCarthy of California pulled himself out of the running, gaggles of reporters staked out Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s committee office, steps from the House floor, as pressure grew on him to seize the speaker’s gavel despite his protestations that he doesn’t want the job.
“He needs to do this for the team. That’s what we’re all telling him,” said Representative Fred Upton, a 15-term Michigan Republican who is close to Ryan.
Even Mitt Romney weighed in, placing a call to Ryan, his 2012 running mate, on Thursday, urging him to run.
“I wouldn’t presume to tell Paul what to do, but I do know that he is a man of ideas who is driven to see them applied for the public good,” Romney said in a statement. “With Paul, it’s not just words, it’s in his heart and soul.”
Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has repeatedly declared he is not interested. His spokesman issued a statement Friday morning saying Ryan “appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker.”
Some of his colleagues remain hopeful that he can be swayed. Ryan is their man, many Republicans said. He has a connection with most members of the Republican conference and few apparent enemies there. And he gained national stature from his vice presidential bid.
Friday capped two weeks of turmoil among House Republicans, with chaos erupting when John Boehner, unable to unite his caucus, abruptly resigned as speaker. The uncertainty grew when McCarthy, the majority leader and Boehner’s presumed successor, stunned the political world Thursday by withdrawing his bid, also amid opposition from hard-line conservatives.
Disarray continued to reign Friday. Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors as they groped for a way forward. They offered no game plan when they emerged.
Longtime House members said they have seen nothing like it in recent memory.
Pete Sessions, a 10-term Texas Republican, likened the uncertainty in the House to the upheaval during the impeachment proceedings for President Clinton, when the speaker-elect to succeed Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, stepped aside amid reports of an extramarital affair. “It’s break-glass time,” said Sessions, the House Rules Committee chairman.
With key fiscal deadlines for the country piling up in coming months, Boehner reassured his colleagues during the conference meeting Friday that if necessary he would stick around beyond the end of the month, when he was hoping to retire. He said he would set a new election date when appropriate, after members coalesce around a consensus choice.
Ryan is the last unscathed member of the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” — a trio seeking to be the next generation of House leaders. The other two are McCarthy and Eric Cantor, who lost his Virginia seat to a more conservative Republican last year in a primary race.
Some question why Ryan would want to be speaker, a thankless job with the seemingly impossible task of uniting a party engaged in all-out civil war. With an intransigent segment of the caucus opposed to compromise, it is nearly impossible to pass legislation without Democratic votes.
Managing serial fiscal crises, including avoiding a national credit default and government shutdowns, would subject the next speaker to the frequent threat of immolation by the party’s right wing.
Ryan’s name was even on the lips of tourists aware of the House leadership shake-up.
Jay Key, a New Yorker visiting the Capitol with his wife and four children, endorsed Ryan as he listened to a tour guide in Statuary Hall drone on about a 19th-century vice president, Hannibal Hamlin.
“He’s a very smart guy who looks at things analytically as opposed to pure emotion,” Key said of Ryan.
Some conservatives outside of Congress were already sharpening their knives. Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio talk-show host who helped defeat Cantor, set her sights on Ryan on Thursday night.
On Twitter, Ingraham wrote that Ryan was among the Republicans who helped give President Obama fast-track authority for a trade deal that is a White House priority.
Ingraham also attacked his qualifications, saying he “lost” the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden in 2012. And she pointed her followers to the comments on a National Review post where Ryan was derided for being a “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only.
But some conservative House Republicans aren’t buying it, citing Ryan’s credibility on fiscal issues.
“If you look across the right wing of our party, that is the unifying theme,” said Mick Mulvaney, a Tea Party Republican from South Carolina.
Ryan appears to be reconsidering his resistance to the gavel, telling colleagues that he would be discussing the possibility with his wife.
“My guess is if he throws his hat in the ring, no one else will run,” Upton said.
Sessions said members are welcoming the recess as an opportunity to take a breath and reflect. He declined to say whether he would seek the job.
“Let’s find out what Paul’s doing,” he said. But, he added, “you can’t will it on somebody.”
Annie Linskey of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Tracy Jan can be reached at [email protected]
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