Republicans choose Paul Ryan for US House speaker

Michael Mathes
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Newly elected House speaker Paul Ryan, pictured October 28, 2015, made the rounds of Sunday TV political talk shows November 1, ruling out any cooperation with President Barack Obama on US immigration reform

Newly elected House speaker Paul Ryan, pictured October 28, 2015, made the rounds of Sunday TV political talk shows November 1, ruling out any cooperation with President Barack Obama on US immigration reform (AFP Photo/Chip Somodevilla)

Washington (AFP) - US Republicans on Wednesday nominated popular conservative Paul Ryan as their candidate for speaker of the House of Representatives -- a move they hope will unite their fractured camp after weeks of political infighting.

Barring any disaster, Ryan will -- in a full vote in the Republican-controlled House set for Thursday -- be elevated to the most important job in Congress, putting him second in the line of presidential succession after the vice president.

On Wednesday, the charismatic 45-year-old Wisconsin lawmaker won a closed-door election to become the party's pick to replace Speaker John Boehner, who announced last month he is stepping down on Friday.

Boehner resigned under pressure from rebellious conservatives in the party, revealing a deep rift between those lawmakers and the more establishment Republicans in the House.

"This begins a new day in the House of Representatives," Ryan told reporters after the vote.

"We are not going to have a House that looked like it looked the last few years. We are going to move forward, we are going to unify," he said.

Lawmakers expressed satisfaction that the weeks-long drama among House Republicans seemed to be coming to a close.

"Everybody could almost feel the relief inside the room that we've got the right leader at the right time that can bring us together," congressman Tom Cole said.

But some political intrigue lingers.

Lawmakers leaving the vote said Ryan had secured only 200 votes in the 247-member Republican conference, leaving him shy of the 218 needed for outright victory Thursday on the floor of the 435-member chamber.

But they expressed confidence that Ryan will secure well above the 218 mark on the final vote.

"I think the overwhelming majority of the conference is ready to move on, and (we are) in the 230s on that," congressman Greg Walden told reporters.

- 'Give him a chance' -

Daniel Webster, who mounted a rebellious bid for House speaker when Boehner announced his resignation, received 43 votes, lawmakers said.

Webster, a little known congressman from Florida who pledged to seek a greater role for rank-and-file lawmakers, had been endorsed earlier in the race by the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 core conservatives who had turned on Boehner.

Several of them voted against Ryan on Wednesday, but a member of the group, Raul Labrador, expected most in the Freedom Caucus would back Ryan in the floor vote.

"We're cautiously optimistic that he's going to change the way we're doing things here, and we're going to give him a chance," Labrador said of Ryan.

Even Webster himself wants a single ballot Thursday.

"In the end, I know that we made an impact," he said. "This is done, it's 200 to 43. Let's head forward."

- More work ahead -

Ryan was the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee who has served as the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee for the past year.

His elevation to House speaker comes in the immediate aftermath of a major budget breakthrough -- a two-year spending deal negotiated in secret, mainly between Boehner and the White House, that will help stave off a potential government shutdown in December.

The deal would modestly increase federal spending by some $80 billion over two years, evenly distributed between domestic and military programs, add some $32 billion to an emergency war fund, and raise the US debt ceiling until March 2017, well beyond the next presidential election.

Ryan said in a statement ahead of the speaker vote that while he disapproved of the closed-door dealings that yielded the agreement, he would ultimately support it.

"As with any budget agreement, this one has some good, some bad, and some ugly," he said.

Ryan supporters in Congress said they expect he will want to embark on major conservative programs as Republicans and Democrats gear up for the 2016 presidential election.

"I think the new speaker is going to want to have an aggressive policy agenda next year," congressman Charlie Dent said.

Ryan had been deeply hesitant to take the gavel.

But after number two Republican Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the speaker's race, lawmakers including party leaders heaped pressure on Ryan to take the job, arguing he was the best man to unify the divided Republican camp.