(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise announcement that he won’t seek re-election clears the way for his deputies -- Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana -- to vie for the top GOP position ahead of a November election that may upend control of the chamber.
The No. 2 and 3 House Republicans, respectively, have been quietly rallying support among colleagues and increasing their national profiles, according to GOP lawmakers and aides who spoke on condition of anonymity. Scalise declined to comment on Wednesday and McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ryan, at a news conference Wednesday, praised his deputies but declined to say who he would support to lead Republicans after he retires.
“I have more thoughts on this -- I think this is probably not the right time to get into that, but I’ll share those thoughts later,” Ryan said. “That election is in November, so it’s not something we have sweat right now.”
The jockeying to replace Ryan as the chamber’s top Republican when his term ends in January comes as the party is at risk of losing its House majority amid low approval ratings for President Donald Trump and a surge of Democratic voter enthusiasm. Democrats took seats that Republicans long had held in Alabama and Pennsylvania in recent special elections, hinting at building anti-GOP sentiment.
If Democrats win a majority in the House, they would elect the next House speaker.
Some Republicans see lawmakers coalescing behind Scalise, who survived a near-fatal shooting last year and is broadly popular. As the party’s lead vote-counter and persuader, Scalise has honed the art of giving lawmakers what they want in exchange for a vote. However, Scalise may be opposed by some conservatives who say he didn’t do enough to back an immigration bill they supported earlier this year.
Scalise, 52, previously told Politico regarding the speaker’s job that he “wouldn’t rule it out,” with the caveat that he’s focused on working with President Donald Trump to “advance a conservative agenda.”
Road to Leadership
While McCarthy, 53, might seem like a natural replacement if Ryan were to leave, the No. 2 leadership job isn’t an automatic path to the top. The previous Republican speaker, John Boehner of Ohio, is the only majority leader in nearly 30 years to go on to become speaker, though with a stint as minority leader in between.
McCarthy may get support from Trump. He has been a key Trump confidante and had a private dinner with the president and other Trump supporters last week. McCarthy was an early backer of Trump’s candidacy among House Republicans. As his party’s floor leader, McCarthy also been a key player in trying to move the president’s agenda.
McCarthy initially sought to replace Boehner in 2015 but dropped out. That set off a race to find someone else, leading to the selection of Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who was then serving as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Over the years, McCarthy has generated some ill will after turning down lawmakers’ requests for floor time or committee appointments, said a former GOP aide who worked closely with House leaders.
Along with McCarthy and Scalise, the No. 4 House Republican and highest ranking woman in the party, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, is interested in moving up the leadership ranks.
Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, led by Mark Meadows of North Carolina, have told colleagues know they want a seat at the leadership table.
Meadows told reporters that running for a leadership position in the House is “not on my bucket list.”
Ryan, who spent nearly 20 years in the House and was was his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, will be missed by his colleagues for his fundraising prowess. His time on the national stage helped him build relationships with a national network of donors and his policy positions were in sync with the sort of establishment Republicans who attend fundraisers.
During the first quarter of 2018, his joint fundraising committee, Team Ryan, pulled in $11.1 million. So far in the 2017-18 election cycle, he’s raised more than $54 million, a total Ryan’s political aides have called an unprecedented sum for a speaker’s political organization. More than $40 million of the total Ryan has raised has been transferred to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the main campaign operation for House Republicans.
Ryan has traveled to more than 30 states and more than 70 cities to raise money in this election cycle. He’s likely to maintain a robust fundraising schedule the rest of this election year, although with his planned exit from power he’s not likely to be as hot a ticket on the fundraising circuit.
At his news conference, Ryan said he no longer wanted to be a “weekend dad” to his teenage children.
“You all know that I did not seek this job. I took it reluctantly,” he said. “But I have given this job everything that I have, and I have no regrets whatsoever for having accepted this responsibility.”
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