History was made in Congress this October 29, when Congressman Paul Ryan, a Republican representing Wisconsin’s First District, was elected the 62nd Speaker of the House following former Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) surprise retirement announcement, causing widespread uncertainty as to who would replace him. This began a contentious and unpredictable leadership crisis that gripped the House’s majority GOP conference for weeks.
Boehner, a divisive figure in the House Republican leadership, and a devout Catholic, shocked America when he suddenly announced his retirement the day after Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress, saying that by getting the Pontif to the Capitol made him realize he had accomplished everything he had desired and no longer wanted to continue serving in Congress.
Boehner’s tenure as Speaker will be remembered for his continual conflict with the House Freedom Caucus, a group representing the hardline Conservative faction of the party. The group constantly antagonized the Speaker, railing about his routine compromises with Democrats which they viewed more as concessions, and for his unrelenting punishment of dissenters within the House GOP.
The event caused even more surprise after House Majority Leader, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, (R-CA) whom many expected to win the internal party election for Speaker, dropped out of the race minutes before the vote. He cited his inability to unite the divided party by failing to win over the most conservative Representatives. Many also speculated that McCarthy lost the support of his colleagues after he made a gaffe on Fox News about how the House Benghazi Committee was designed to damage Hillary Clinton, and that many Representatives wanted to end the tradition of simply passing down leadership positions to the next person in line.
“If we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face,” McCarthy said in his press conference, exemplifying the feelings of many of his colleagues.
Of the potential choices to be that “new face,” Congressional Republicans called upon two of their most popular members; South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, known for his passionate floor speeches and Chairmanship of the House Select Benghazi Committee, as well as now-Speaker Paul Ryan, who was the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2012 and formerly served as Chairman of the powerful House Budget, and Ways and Means Committees. Both men initially said they were not interested in the position, content with their current chairmanships. But after facing mounting pressures Ryan decided he would spend some time to reconsider.
After weeks of tense waiting, House Republicans finally got their answer when Ryan announced that he would run for Speaker, but only if he received commitments of support from the three major factions in the GOP Conference, including the hardline Freedom Caucus. He also made clear that as a requirement to running for Speaker he would take weekends off to spend with his young family. Ryan received the support from the vast majority of the conference and was elected Speaker receiving 236 votes, while Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received 184. Although Ryan got the backing of the Freedom Caucus, 9 of its 40 members still voted for his only Republican opponent, Florida Congressman Daniel Webster, who the group originally backed against Majority Leader McCarthy.
Ryan is promising to bring about real change to a very unpopular Congress, saying it was time to set aside partisan and ideological differences and begin with a fresh start.
“Let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them,” he said. “And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.”
Many in Congress have a renewed sense of optimism about successfully getting things done for the country. Everything was made official as Ryan was sworn in to roaring applause October 29, with his former running mate Governor Mitt Romney and his family looking on. The process was all concluded with the ceremonial passing of the gavel from second place Democratic Minority Leader, and former Speaker herself, Nancy Pelosi of California, to the new House Speaker, Wisconsin’s Paul D. Ryan.