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Republicans Discount Paul Ryan Endorsement for Replacement

The speaker says he has a preference, but it might not matter

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has said he has a preference for who will succeed him in the GOP pecking order. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has said he has a preference for who will succeed him in the GOP pecking order. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Retiring Speaker Paul D. Ryan has a preference on which member of his leadership team should succeed him, but if he decides to endorse, its effect is debatable. 

Several House Republicans interviewed Wednesday in the hours following Ryan’s announcement that he would retire at the end of his term in January said his endorsement would not mean much.

“For the next Congress, no,” New York Rep. Chris Collins said when asked if a Ryan endorsement would make a difference.

Some more conservative members even said a Ryan endorsement would potentially harm the candidate receiving the Wisconsin Republican’s backing.

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“I don’t think it helps,” Freedom Caucus member Paul Gosar of Arizona said.

Leading contenders to replace Ryan are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 and No. 3 GOP leaders, respectively.

McCarthy likely has an edge in a race for minority leader, should Republicans lose the House. That race would be a GOP-only contest. But a speaker’s race, should they maintain their majority, is more of a tossup, because it requires majority support of the whole House.

Ryan has not said whom he will endorse but has indicated it will be a member of his current leadership team.

“We have a fantastic leadership team that we can transition to easily,” he said Thursday on CBS This Morning. “They already know how to do the job.”

As to whom he is backing for the top slot, Ryan said, “I’ll probably have more to say on that pretty soon.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, who has pushed back on the suggestion that he could be a dark horse candidate to replace Ryan, said the speaker has every right to weigh in on who would be a good fit to replace him.

“It would be interesting to see how he kind of shared that,” the North Carolina Republican said. “As far as, does it change the minds of Congress? I don’t know that it would.”

Other members, like Texas Rep. Roger Williams, suggested Ryan could have some sway.

But the impact of the speaker’s endorsement is likely minor.

“It would either be a help or a neutral,” Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, said he doesn’t believe a Ryan endorsement would have a big impact one way or the other.

A more coveted endorsement would be that of President Donald Trump. Every member interviewed acknowledged that would provide a positive boost to a candidate.

“If the president is behind someone, of course it would have an influence,” Jordan said. “He’s president of the united States.”

Griffith agreed.

“I think that would be more of a help — as long as it’s not seen as Trump is trying to pick our speaker, because we pick our speaker,” he said.

In his role as president, Trump has to work closely with the House Republican leader. Trump is a fan of both McCarthy and Scalise, but he appears to be closer with the former.

McCarthy became an informal adviser to Trump during the campaign and has had the president’s ear ever since. They talk frequently on the phone. Over the recent recess, McCarthy attended a fundraiser with Trump at a Washington restaurant.

Collins, who was also close with Trump during the campaign, said he personally believes Trump won’t endorse in the leadership race and will leave it up to House Republicans to pick their own leader.

A senior White House official grimaced and waved off a reporter when asked Wednesday if the president would endorse a candidate to replace Ryan.

“Way too soon. Just not there yet,” the official said of Trump before noting the president is the leader of the Republican Party.

Gosar said he would caution Trump to stay out of the leadership race, noting, “There is separation of power for a reason.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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