WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Representative Paul Ryan officially jumped into the race for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday after nailing down crucial endorsements from conservative and moderate factions.
Ryan earlier this week said he was open to replacing retiring House Speaker John Boehner, but only if he could win the unified backing of his divided party colleagues in the House. By Thursday afternoon he had gathered enough support to make him an overwhelming favorite in the contest.
“I believe we are ready to move forward as a one, united team. And I am ready and eager to be our speaker,” Ryan wrote on Thursday evening in a letter to fellow Republican lawmakers that was released by his office.
Republicans are scheduled to nominate a new speaker on Oct. 28, with a vote by the full House on Oct. 29. They hope to thus end what has been a crippling internal power struggle and return to pressing legislative business, such as a looming deadline to raise the U.S. debt limit.
In the letter, Ryan said he wanted to make the House more inclusive, and he laid out an ambitious policy agenda: “I know many of you want to show the country how to fix our tax code, how to rebuild our military, how to strengthen the safety net, and how to lift people out of poverty.”
“And we can show the country what a commonsense conservative agenda looks like,” Ryan said.
Republicans who met Thursday with Ryan, a Wisconsin lawmaker who ran for vice president in 2012, said they expected him to help smooth over party divisions.
“He can heal all these factional differences,” said Florida Representative Carlos Curbelo after a meeting between Ryan and Republican moderates in a caucus known as the Tuesday Group.
The Tuesday Group issued a warm endorsement of Ryan, as did the largest group of House conservatives, the Republican Study Committee.
Ryan cleared the biggest challenge to his candidacy on Wednesday, when he gained the support of two-thirds of another Republican faction, the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus that had repeatedly fought with Boehner and opposed his likely successor, Kevin McCarthy, forcing him to withdraw.
But some Freedom caucus members are expected to vote for Daniel Webster, a conservative in a long-shot bid for the post.
Party infighting has overshadowed urgent fiscal issues. If Congress fails to boost the U.S. debt limit by Nov. 3, the Treasury Department has warned that the government could default on its debt, which would shake global markets. The Republican-controlled Congress has offered no clear plan to prevent this.
While Ryan appeared to have gathered sufficient support to win next week, he has no guarantees, as lawmakers have several days in which to change their minds. But Representative Mike Simpson, a Boehner ally, said of Ryan: “He’s the closest to having it in the bag.”
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alan Crosby and Tom Brown