Push to delay speaker election puts Ryan in political jam

Story highlights

  • House GOP members traditionally vote on top leadership positions the week following the election
  • Ryan faces intense blowback after he said he would no longer defend Donald Trump

Washington (CNN)In a renewed push that could put House Speaker Paul Ryan in a political jam, conservatives in the House are circulating a letter urging Republican leaders to delay the election that will determine whether Ryan keeps his gavel in the next Congress.

House GOP members traditionally vote on top leadership positions the week following the election, but a bloc of members are arguing that vote shouldn't happen until December, after Congress deals with a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown and addresses other business.
    "We really should delay those leadership races for further on in December, or at least late November, to give all the newly elected members of Congress the chance to get to know people," North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows told CNN in a phone interview on Friday.
    Members of the Freedom Caucus are reaching out to other factions inside the GOP conference in an effort to demonstrate broader support across the ideological spectrum for postponing the vote, which is slated for mid-November, barely a week after Congress returns and digests the results of the presidential race.
    Ryan faces intense blowback after he told House GOP members he would no longer defend Donald Trump following the release of the video tapes that captured the billionaire businessman making vulgar statements about women in 2005.
    The speaker's move was followed by fierce criticism from the GOP nominee himself, who called Ryan "very weak" and "ineffective," and from other Trump allies who question whether he should remain speaker.
    Oklahoma GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine threatened to pull his support for Ryan last week because he wasn't strongly backing Trump. And the dust-up over Ryan's strategy to solely focus on down-ballot races and to essentially ignore Trump has other House Republicans angry and accusing him of essentially conceding the presidential race.
    Tennessee GOP Rep. Scott Desjarlais said in a statement to CNN, "it's hard to find a Paul Ryan fan in my district."
    Meadows caused a stir on Thursday when he told WAAV radio in North Carolina that some constituents are questioning the party loyalty of Ryan and said there will be discussions after the November 8 election about what the leadership team will look like going forward. But on Friday, he ruled out a run for the post, telling CNN, "I have no desire nor plans to ever run for speaker. That's not where I see myself."
    Asked for reaction to Meadow's comments, Ryan's spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Thursday, "Speaker Ryan is fighting to ensure we hold a strong majority next Congress, and he is always working to earn the respect and support of his colleagues."
    Fox News anchor Sean Hannity floated Meadows name, along with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, as possible replacements for Ryan. But Meadows noted that he's never talked to Hannity and said he wasn't suggesting a challenge when he made the comment on Thursday, but was just discussing the dynamic he's hearing about from voters in his state.
    He said he speaks frequently to Jordan, and said the Ohio Republican is not considering a run for a leadership post and no one else is circulating names of other potential challengers.
    Jordan's spokesman, Darrin Miller, told CNN, "he is focused on his own race and helping Republicans up and down the ticket."
    Meadows, who made a national splash when he made the first procedural move on the House floor that ultimately led former House Speaker John Boehner to step down, said there are "zero talks" to try any procedural move on the floor to oust Ryan.
    But asked if he'll back Ryan in the GOP conference election, the North Carolina Republican said, "there's no race at this particular point" and said he didn't see any need to discuss the issue "before there's actually candidates." He said the only discussions he's heard about are for the contest for the job to run the House GOP campaign committee to replace current chairman Greg Walden.
    "For us to focus on anything other than the presidential race or our own races would not only be premature but would be a waste of energy right now because we don't know what the landscape is right now," Meadows said.
    But even if conservatives aren't putting the plans together to back an alternative to Ryan right now, the effort to try to force leaders to delay the date of the leadership election effectively helps them do that by allowing more time to rally around a challenger.
    The details of the letter making the case for more time are still being finalized, but Ryan and other leaders began hearing about the idea of sliding the leadership elections to a later date several weeks ago.
    At his last press conference before the congressional fall recess, the speaker said he expected the vote to happen at the same time it does after every election. Officially, the House GOP conference Chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, sets the date for the leadership election.