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In Letter To House GOP, Paul Ryan Says He's 'Ready And Eager' To Be Speaker


Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has made it official. He is running for speaker of the House. It's a job he said he never wanted and would only do if he got the support from almost the entire Republican caucus. The last couple key endorsements came in today. And with us now from Capitol Hill is NPR's Congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. Hi, Ailsa.


SHAPIRO: OK, so although it became official tonight, this news has been anticipated since last night when a key group called the House Freedom Caucus gave its support to Ryan's bid. Tell us briefly who this group is and why they mattered the most.

CHANG: Yeah, so this was the group Ryan needed to win over. They're about 40 or so - the most hard line conservatives in the House. They're the ones who kept threatening to oust Speaker John Boehner, which prompted Boehner's decision to resign. And Ryan just didn't want to inherit the same troubles that haunted Boehner. So he made it very clear when he announced earlier this week his possible interest in running for speaker, he said he was only going to do it if the House Freedom Caucus endorsed him.

SHAPIRO: But they stopped short of an actual endorsement, right?

CHANG: That's right, exactly. The Freedom Caucus came out of their meeting last night basically saying we cannot endorse him, but we will support him.

SHAPIRO: What does that even mean?

CHANG: So, the Freedom Caucus has this internal rule that in order to officially endorse someone, it needs 80 percent of its members on board. They only had two-thirds of their members saying yes to Ryan. So at that point we knew, OK, Ryan now has enough votes on the floor to become speaker. But was that going to be enough for Ryan? Does he still need a formal endorsement from them in order to jump in? And apparently, the answer was no. Ryan sent out a statement last night calling the Freedom Caucus' support a positive step toward a united Republican team. And so that was already a signal that Ryan was going to move forward. The other two endorsements that came later today we knew were pretty much going to be a sure thing.

SHAPIRO: Well, he has this overwhelming show of support for his election to be speaker, but does that indicate anything about the end of divisiveness between the parties, or even within the Republican Party?

CHANG: (Laughter) Not really very much. You know, we have to make it very clear, these hard line conservatives aren't exactly singing "Kumbaya" with Ryan right now. You know, they told Ryan they want to see the House run very differently than the way it was run under Boehner. They felt ignored under Boehner, marginalized under Boehner. And they now want more power in getting legislation introduced. They want more say in how committee chairs are selected. Ryan, on the other hand, wants to make it harder procedurally to oust the speaker. And of course, Freedom Caucus members don't want that. So there's going to be a lot of discussion, robust discussion, potential fighting coming up later. And I don't want anybody's eyes to glaze over, but there was definitely a lot of talk about process this week - less about what kind of person Ryan was, more about what kind of process he could guarantee or promise. Apparently, Ryan gave them enough assurance that he'd consider the changes they were asking for, but he hasn't fully committed to any of them. So there could be a lot more negotiating in the days forward.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like, as people have described this as a civil war among House Republicans, this is not the end of the war, but maybe just a detente.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: So Speaker Boehner has said that elections will take place next week. Walk us through what the next steps are.

CHANG: Yeah. So first, on Wednesday, the Republican caucus will select their nominee for speaker. And then the full House will vote on Thursday. And then lots of stuff comes barreling after that. Just days after that formal election for speaker, Congress has to raise the debt ceiling. They have until November 3 to do that. And then Congressional leaders need to reach a new budget deal with the White House in order to avert a government shutdown in mid-December. And those budget talks have gotten off to a really, really, slow start. The two sides have been arguing about whether to raise spending caps, and they don't seem to be anywhere close to an agreement. So there won't be much of a ramp-up time for Ryan should he become speaker.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. Thanks, Ailsa.

CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.