Paul D. Ryan unanimously won the nomination of his House Republican colleagues Tuesday to continue as speaker and serve as the chief legislative partner to President-elect Donald Trump.
“Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government,” he told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Ryan must now win a floor vote in January of all 435 House members. If about two dozen Republicans were to withhold their support, his election would be thrown in doubt.
Our leadership needs to understand that the American people sent a message to the House. They sent somebody like Donald Trump to change the way Washington works.
Congressman Raul Labrador
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Several Republicans made clear this week that although Trump’s victory may have eased the internal party tensions that threatened Ryan’s speakership before the election, it has not eliminated them entirely.
“I haven’t heard from him what he wants to change — what’s going to be different the next two years than the last two years?” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, a co-founder of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. “So far, I’m not hearing anything about changing the way we do business here in Washington, so I’m not ready to support him yet.”
Labrador is in a clear minority among House Republicans — Ryan. R-Wis., enjoys broad support among the GOP rank-and-file — but his qualms reflect ongoing discomfort over how Ryan’s brand of Republican politics will meld with Trump’s. He was among a handful of members who said Tuesday they would still consider opposing Ryan then.
Trump and Ryan met last week on Capitol Hill and appeared before cameras together for the first time since the campaign began. Both men have said in the past week that action to repeal the Affordable Care Act, secure the southern U.S. border and cut taxes are among their shared priorities.
“We are on the same page,” Ryan said Tuesday, citing recent conversations with Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “We will be working hand in glove.”
In a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, each GOP House member was given one of Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hats. That show of unity has mostly quieted two groups of Republicans that have been vexed by how Ryan has handled Trump. One consists of early and enthusiastic Trump supporters who bristled at how Ryan kept Trump at arm’s length during the presidential campaign.
The other restive group is the Freedom Caucus, members of which also pressed for a delay in elections. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), for instance, said Monday that “a smart, rational conference would want to analyze an historic election like the country has never seen” before voting on its leaders.
Labrador dismissed the notion that Ryan holds an equal claim to lead Republicans alongside Trump and mocked the idea that the election results constituted a mandate for the Ryan policy agenda.
“Our leadership needs to understand that the American people sent a message to the House. They sent somebody like Donald Trump to change the way Washington works,” he said. “I hope they understand that business as usual is not going to work.”
But the Freedom Caucus, despite rumblings that it might demand a seat at the GOP leadership table, did not run a candidate against Ryan or for any other post.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., another Freedom Caucus leader, said the leadership elections “came in roaring like a lion” but are “going to go out as gentle as a lamb.”
“Our focus has shifted more to how do we make sure that we have a good plan on supporting the initiatives that are important to the American people,” he said Monday. “As long as the existing leadership’s willing to do that, we’re focused more on the policy and the legislative components than the control components.”
But implicit in that concession is a threat: If Ryan diverges too far from Trump, a GOP rear guard stands ready to challenge him — and oust him, if necessary. And the tests stand to be frequent, starting with a Dec. 9 deadline for extending federal spending. Conservatives are pushing Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to back away from a year-long spending bill to be negotiated with a lame-duck President Obama.