Former US vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has become the front runner in the race to become speaker of the House. The battle over the position has highlighted tensions within the Republican Party.
Congressman Paul Ryan was all but guaranteed the speaker of the House job late on Wednesday when the majority of an influential group of staunchly conservative Republicans voted to endorse him should he enter the race. The protracted debate over who should succeed John Boehner, who unexpectedly resigned last month, has exposed deep divisions between House Republicans.
Around two-thirds of the 40-odd members of the "Freedom Caucus" in the US House of Representatives voted to support Ryan. This is under the 80 percent required by Freedom Caucus rules to formally promote a candidate, but Ryan may have secured just enough votes to guarantee him the speaker job.
"The bottom line is if he wants to be speaker, he's got the votes as of tonight," said Representative Mick Mulvaney, a pro-Ryan member of the caucus.
Ryan called the support "a positive step toward a unified Republican team," and said he looked forward to hearing from two other House Republican groups by the end of the week.
Republicans are set to hold a vote nominating a new speaker on October 28, which will be followed by a full House vote the next day.
Infighting stalls speaker choice
Republican bickering over the direction of the party, which many consider the catalyst for Boehner's surprise retirement, has intensified as Congress faces a stark deadline to raise the federal government's debt ceiling. The infighting has made the race for the next speaker a complicated one, with frontrunner Kevin McCarthy of California suddenly pulling out of the contest when he realized he could not unite the party.
45-year-old Ryan, who represents Wisconsin, has said he will take the nomination if he can get a majority of Republicans behind him - with the understanding that a rule change will be implemented making it more difficult for a single member of Congress to force a vote to oust the speaker.
Ryan spent part of Wednesday meeting privately with the Freedom Caucus, who then issued a statement calling the congressman a "policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects."
"While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan's preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our conference in due time," the statement continued.
The former vice presidential candidate is expected to formally enter the race on Friday, once he is assured of majority support.
es/rc (AP, Reuters)