Many Republicans have been turning toward the Wisconsin representative as their best shot of electing a House speaker to replace John Boehner (R-Ohio), who wants to leave his post at the end of the month.
But Ryan has so far said he’s not interested.
The problem for Republicans is that they need a speaker candidate who can attract at least 218 votes -- the majority needed when the full House votes for a leader.
There are 247 Republicans in the House, but Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) abandoned his bid when it was clear he couldn’t get enough of them to reach the magic number, because several dozen members of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus wouldn’t back him. Aside from maybe Ryan, no one else is yet positioned to secure that tally, either.
“At this point, it’s almost any leader that you put in in our conference is going to have the same difficulties with the makeup of our conference,” said Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)
And that has some Republicans looking to Democrats. There are 435 members of the House, and 188 belong to the minority party. Democrats get to vote for speaker, too.
The most vocal of those Republicans has been Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who pointed to centrist Republicans having to depend on Democratic votes recently to pass government funding, when only 91 Republicans were willing to vote to keep the government open.
A similar coalition has formed to back reauthorization of the expired Export-Import Bank.
”In order to pass any bill around this place, everybody knows we need to assemble a bipartisan coalition,” Dent told reporters after McCarthy bailed out. “I suspect at some point, if we can't get 218 Republicans to vote for a speaker candidate, we'll have to assemble a bipartisan coalition to elect a speaker."
Conservatives in the GOP caucus would adamantly oppose such an arrangement, and it would spark a serious rift in the Republican Party.
But it may open the way for Congress to start getting more work done.
And Dent isn’t the only Republican to be fed up with colleagues who have proven willing to shut down the government if they can’t win their battles to defund Obamacare or yank federal funding from Planned Parenthood.
"We have to do whatever it takes to elect a speaker," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
It’s not that lawmakers on King's side of the aisle would prefer forming what amounts to an American version of a coalition government. But even those who think it’s a bad idea admit it could happen.
"I hope not. I hope not,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), though she allowed it may be possible for Republicans to reach across the aisle for a leader if their own process becomes intractably mired in infighting. ”It depends how long it takes,” she said.
”My hope is we don’t get to that point,” said Reichert. “We have smart people in this conference that recognize we need to be leaders in this world.”
Ironically, Democrats expressed more confidence than some Republicans that the Grand Old Party would pick its own new leader. But they did it with a twinkle in their eyes.
“When they act in their caucus and they elect a speaker on the floor, we'll talk about how we'll work together,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Hopefully, Republicans will come to terms as to who their recommendation will be for speaker. But that's really up to them."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) happened to be watching the chaos outside the GOP meeting Thursday, when McCarthy gave up his bid for the gavel.
It seemed to him that maybe the other party was beginning to see how deep its problems are.
"Maybe they're beginning to realize that John Boehner may have been the best deal. I don't know," Becerra said. "They've got to figure out how to get to 218. This talk about trying to get Democratic votes doesn't make sense to them, and they don't have a lot of time."
"We Democrats are unified in that we will certainly accept their support of the next speaker -- Nancy Pelosi,” Hoyer said. “It goes both ways."
Elise Foley contributed reporting.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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