WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers late Tuesday that he will run for speaker but only if they embrace him by week's end as their consensus candidate — an ambitious bid to impose unity on a disordered and divided House.
Dragged reluctantly into seeking a job he never wanted, Ryan spoke to his colleagues behind closed doors, telling them he will run only with the endorsement of the major caucuses in the House. That includes the Freedom Caucus that chased out the current speaker and his No. 2 and will now have veto power over Ryan.
"I came to the conclusion that this is a very dire moment, not just for Congress, not just for the Republican Party, but for our country. And I think our country is in desperate need of leadership," Ryan told a news conference afterward.
"What I told members is if you can agree to these requests, and if I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve. And if I am not unifying, that is fine as well — I will be happy to stay where I am."
The 45-year-old Ryan gave his colleagues until Friday to express their support. The question will be whether he can win over the three dozen or so members of the Freedom Caucus, who drove Speaker John Boehner to announce his resignation by threatening a floor vote on his speakership and scared Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy into abruptly withdrawing from the race to replace him.
Ryan's announcement was met warmly by many lawmakers. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he was abandoning his own candidacy for the job and would back Ryan.
"He's the right person at the right time," Chaffetz said.
But members of the Freedom Caucus remained to be convinced.
"I think he has to campaign for it," Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa, said.