All is fine and well in the House GOP conference, according to to the Republican rank-and-file.
“We just had a great conference,” said Tennessee’s Marsh Blackburn as she left the Friday morning meeting in the Capitol. “We’ve got a great conference.”
“There’s a lot of communication,” said Jackie Walorski of Indiana.
Asked about the mood in the meeting, Alabama freshman Gary Palmer said, “There’s a lot of good humor.”
It’s a far cry from the confusion that Republicans were expressing just a day earlier, after House majority leader Kevin McCarthy made a surprise announcement that he was withdrawing from the race for speaker. McCarthy’s bid looked increasingly difficult, more challenging than it looked when he had announced his run 10 days before, but no one expected him to drop out. His decision brought immediate chaos to House Republicans as they scrambled to figure out how to move forward. Twenty-four hours later, members at least sounded calmer.
“I think people see this not as a challenge but as an opportunity,” said Texas Republican Blake Farenthold.
“Everybody was in shock yesterday,” said Palmer. “I think everybody’s kind of settled down. We’re going to have a week back in the district. It’s going to clear up some of the thinking.”
Emotions may be settled, but the question of who will ultimately become the GOP conference’s pick for speaker is not. Paul Ryan is the clear favorite among members, including McCarthy and outgoing House speaker John Boehner. CNN reports Ryan has repeatedly said he doesn’t want the job, and a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican continues to say he “is not running.” But CNN also reports that Ryan is "telling House Republicans privately he is considering running for speaker."
And there's been an outpouring of support for Ryan among House members, including one candidate for speaker, Utah’s Jason Chaffetz.
"If Paul Ryan got into the race, of course I’d support him,” Chaffetz told reporters outside the conference meeting. “One of the reasons I got into the race is because people like Paul Ryan weren’t stepping up to do it. We need to have some solution, and I just offer myself as part of that solution.”
“I would not run against Paul Ryan,” he added.
But after Ryan, members aren’t offering up many more potential candidates—Minnesota’s John Kline and Texas’s Jeb Hensarling are among those being mentioned. There’s still declared candidates Chaffetz and Florida congressman Daniel Webster, who is the choice of some 30 or 40 Freedom Caucus members, but neither are gaining ground outside their already declared supporters.
Out of Thursday's chaos, GOP conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers has emerged as something of a consensus builder, trying to help guide the process of finding both a suitable candidate for the conference. She and Indiana congressman Luke Messer are leading the discussion to iron out a compromise with those Freedom Caucus members who are agitating for changes to the House rules and other process issues that have become points of contention with Boehner’s regime.
“We are committed to an orderly process,” McMorris Rodgers said multiple times to questions about how the conference would settle the speakership question.
And while Boehner himself has said he still believes the House will elect a new speaker by the end of October, McMorris Rodgers was not willing to go that far when asked about that timeline.
“We’re working through that,” she said. “We are committed to an orderly process. And I think it is worth us taking the time to make sure that we get the person to lead us and united us and just provide that important leadership.”