WASHINGTON — The hardline House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday it is supporting Rep. Paul Ryan for speaker of the House, all but guaranteeing he'll get the job if he wants it, and potentially heralding a new start for a deeply divided House GOP.
The group of about three dozen rebellious conservatives, who have caused fits for the GOP leadership, stressed that their support for Ryan was not an official endorsement because they couldn't muster the 80 percent agreement such an announcement would require. Yet members of the rebellious group made clear that their intent was to unite behind Ryan and give him the consensus he has said he needs to seek the speakership.
"A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan's bid to become the next speaker of the House," the group said in a statement. "Paul is a policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects, and he has promised to be an ideas-focused speaker who will advance limited government principles and devolve power to the membership."
Support from the group was not certain since they've repeatedly opposed GOP leaders and pushed the current speaker, John Boehner, to announce his resignation. And their backing fell short of the official endorsement Ryan had sought. There was no immediate word from Ryan's office as to whether the announcement would suffice.
Yet, given the Freedom Caucus' pattern of causing headaches for leadership, and the concerns raised by individual members ahead of Wednesday night's meeting, the decision to announce support was significant. It amounted to a rare peace offering from hardliners in the caucus to the establishment-minded lawmakers they've battled for years, and a chance to unite a party at war with itself on Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said the choice was now up to Ryan, who must decide "whether he wants to really lead the conference."