It's the Paul Ryan paralysis syndrome and it's gripping any House Republican who wants to be speaker. The Wisconsin Republican has said he doesn’t want to be speaker of the House, but he is considering it. And until he flatly rules it out, the other potential candidates for the chamber’s top job -- a list nearly two dozen names long and growing -- are forced to proceed gingerly. With one breath they're gauging support, with the next they're letting would-be backers know their interest could be temporary if the Ways and Means Committee chairman gets in.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), just one year removed from the House, was asked for his thoughts about the tumult in the chamber in which he used to serve. The far-right senator responded with his choice for the next Speaker.
“Look, these are trying times for our nation," Cotton told Politico. "It’s important to have a steady hand on the helm during times like this. I think experience really counts in a matter like this. I think House leadership experience really matters. And as you know the Speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the House: So therefore, Vice President Cheney for Speaker.”
Asked if he was kidding, the Arkansan replied, in reference to Cheney, “He’s a man of the House, he says that himself.”
There's no reason to believe the failed former V.P. would want the job, and even if he did, there's no reason to assume House Republicans would consider him right-wing enough. Remember, Cheney is a proponent of marriage equality, increased government spending, supported the Wall Street bailout, and added over $5 trillion to the national debt. By the standards of today's House GOP, Cheney might as well be labeled a liberal.
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Yes, Ryan has already said he doesn't want the job, but he's also signaled to his colleagues that he'd think about it. And so, the political world is forced to simply wait for a definitive, no-wiggle-room, final decision. If the Wisconsin congressman succumbs to the pressure, he'll enjoy quite a bit of intra-party support; if Ryan balks and stays where he is, the free-for-all will begin in earnest.
What's more, all of this drama will simply linger for a while, since Congress isn't even in session this week, and members won't return to work until a week from today. That means that for the next several days, various members -- yesterday, it was Rep. Bill Flores' (R-Texas) -- will issue a statement that effectively says, "If Paul Ryan doesn't run, I'm in."
As for what it might take to tip the scales for the conservative Wisconsinite, Politico also reported yesterday that Ryan would be more inclined to accept the promotion if he were "the true consensus choice of the party. That means no opposition, no sniping, no acceding to demands in exchange for support."
Under the circumstances, that's a tall order -- as we discussed yesterday, there's a contingent of far-right Republicans that are convinced Ryan just isn't extreme enough, and before supporting him for Speaker, this faction would expect him to meet several demands. The New York Times has more along these lines today.