WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Republicans will choose a new leader next week, under a plan announced on Wednesday by retiring House Speaker John Boehner, while right-wing hardliners gave a chilly reception to Paul Ryan’s possible bid to become the next House speaker.
Conservative party members were refusing to fall in line behind Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, after he said he would run under certain conditions to replace Boehner.
After a closed meeting of House Republicans, Boehner told reporters he supported Ryan to be the next speaker.
The struggle ensued as deadlines fast approached for Congress to act on critical debt and budget issues, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew saying he feared a fiscal policy “accident” on Capitol Hill.
Boehner, who said last month that he would step down at the end of October, set a party vote for a new speaker on Oct. 28 and a vote by the full House of Representatives on Oct. 29.
Ryan said on Tuesday he would consider becoming speaker if fractious Republicans united behind him, among other conditions. He gave his colleagues until week’s end to decide.
Much will depend on the attitude of the Freedom Caucus, a small but vocal group of Republican conservatives who played a key role in driving Boehner from his post, and in pushing No. 2 House Republican Kevin McCarthy to exit the succession race.
Members of the faction still back their own contender for speaker, Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, said some members of the caucus on Wednesday.
Representative Jim Jordan, head of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters his group would meet with Ryan later on Wednesday.
Idaho Republican Representative Raul Labrador, a caucus member, praised Ryan, but told reporters he still has reservations: “He could be a good speaker of the House. My only concern right now is it appears he is asking for more power to be in office instead of less power.”
Lew said at a conference he is worried about brinkmanship in Congress on raising the nation’s debt limit as the United States edges closer toward default.
The United States is currently scraping just under its $18 trillion legal debt cap and the Treasury Department expects to exhaust its borrowing authority by Nov. 3. “What I am most worried about … is an accident, and accidents can happen when you play this last-minute brinkmanship game,” Lew said.
Asked if the House will be organized in time to raise the debt ceiling, David Schweikert, an Arizona lawmaker, who belongs to the hard-right caucus, told National Public Radio: “Of course. The full faith and credit of the United States will be fine. It will be protected.”
Oklahoma Republican Representative Tom Cole said he expects Ryan to win most conservatives’ support this week but what will happen on the House floor is less clear.
“What Paul’s pointed out is that we just have to operate by regular order … and work as a team,” Cole told MSNBC.
If Ryan decides against running, Republicans could face more chaos with no clear front-runner. “I am still supporting Dan Webster,” Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas told reporters.
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Susan Cornwell and Lindsay Dunsmuir.