Inside Paul Ryan's deliberations

Story highlights

  • Ryan is skeptical he can bridge the divisions in the Republican Party
  • Some GOP leaders say they can help with fundraising commitments in order to cut down on travel demands
  • Will spend this weekend at home in Wisconsin, including watching the Packers-Rams game Sunday afternoon

Washington (CNN)Rep. Paul Ryan has heard just about every pitch to take the speaker's job in the last 24 hours. He could drive the national agenda. His colleagues would help spare him the demands of fundraising for House Republicans. And most of all: They need him to resurrect a party in shambles.

But in the aftermath of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's shocking decision to forgo a bid at the speakership, Ryan just isn't there yet.
According to interviews with several of his closest allies, Ryan would only want to run for speaker if he had the full support of 247 members -- the entire GOP conference -- a difficult proposition in the best of times, let alone for a party so fractured.
    Even if that were to happen, Ryan is skeptical he would be able to bridge the huge divide among Republicans over major fiscal clashes confronting Congress. And two are coming up immediately: the debt limit in early November and the budget deadline in December.
    The intense travel and fundraising schedule, especially with three young kids in Wisconsin, is another concern. Retiring Speaker John Boehner travels several weekends a month to raise money for GOP congressmen and fundraises every night when Congress is in session. Ryan is leery of that schedule and knowing this, some GOP leaders have pledged to help out by criss-crossing the country to raise cash for their party in his stead.
    And perhaps most of all: he enjoys the job he has. Ryan has ascended to a key perch running the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee -- something the policy-minded chairman has long strived for but would have to abandon if he were to take a job managing the unruly House.
    "You are going to have a group that's going to go against you no matter who you are," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, a friend of Ryan's who spoke with him recently, referring to the hard-right of his caucus. "That's something Paul -- or anybody else -- is going to have to grapple with."
    Ryan doesn't appear to be in a rush, and may wait until after Congress returns from next week's recess to make a public announcement. Leaving the Capitol on Friday, Ryan made sure to avoid the only question on everyone's mind.
    "Right now I'm going to make my flight so I can make it home for dinner," Ryan said. "Sorry guys I'm just going to go. The Packers are at home. They're going to beat the Rams and cover the spread."
    Ryan, by all accounts has been inundated. At the House gym Friday morning, one member approached him and asked: "You have any news for me?" Ryan smiled and went about his workout routine. He hasn't had to make any calls himself because his phone has been ringing off the hook -- including from Mitt Romney, who selected Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate in 2012.
    And on the House floor, the talk about him becoming speaker was unavoidable -- although he tried. At one point Thursday afternoon, Michigan Republican Fred Upton approached Ryan on the House floor and told him he needed to run for speaker.
    Ryan, who has long been rejecting pleas from members to jump in any leadership race, decided he was in the wrong place. With no ill-will towards Upton, he went over to sit next to his Wisconsin GOP colleague, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner for a strategic reason.
    "Sensenbrenner is known to be such a grouch that he figured if he sat next to him no one would confront him on the floor," Upton said.

    How Republicans see Ryan

    Ryan is widely viewed as the consensus choice to be the next speaker -- largely because he made his bones pushing conservative policy ideas, namely his controversial plan to overhaul Medicare.
    But he has also shown a pragmatic style of governing, cutting deals with top Democrats, such as Sen. Patty Murray over the budget and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over Medicare physician reimbursements. He also worked hand-in-glove with the White House to push through a major trade package earlier this year.
    For some conservatives, however, too many deals with Democrats isn't a good thing. He has been criticized by some pockets on the right for showcasing an openness to compromise, including on issues like immigration reform. And that pressure is bound to grow more intense, particularly once the next speaker deals with fiscal issues involving raising the debt ceiling and extending government funding.
    There is some sympathy from those pushing Ryan to take the job.
    "He sees how dysfunctional we are. And who wants to lower themselves into that tar pit?" said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Michigan. "But at the same time, someone's got to do this."
    Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus -- the band of roughly 40 conservatives who threw their support behind Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida, for speaker -- say they are open to backing Ryan for speaker.
    But, they say, he must commit to a series of structural reforms to overhaul how the leadership team is run before they even consider backing his leadership bid.
    "I think Paul walks into the office and Paul does have a unifying force that right now nobody else seems to be able to fill," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, another leader of the conservative caucus. He added that Ryan would need to demonstrate to the caucus that he would spread power out to the rank-and-file and away from the leadership.
    "Just because you are Paul Ryan doesn't mean it's going to be any better," Mulvaney said, adding that the question is: "How are you going to fix the problems."
    "I think Paul Ryan is a great member and you know a sharp guy when it comes to policy and politics and everything else," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "Our focus is much more on the what than the who."
    Jordan, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, added that the next leader needs to show some spine -- particularly on issues like defunding Planned Parenthood.
    "That has to change," Jordan said.

    'Thinking and praying'

    It's those kinds of demands that makes Ryan squeamish, his friends say -- especially if he had to struggle to get barely more than the necessary 218 votes to become speaker of the House. He'd want 247 votes.
    "They want him to get in and be made speaker by acclimation," said Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas. "He's got to sit down with his family and think about it.
    Indeed, Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart was one member who walked up to Ryan Thursday and encouraged him to run. Ryan told him he was "thinking and praying about it."
    This isn't the first time Ryan has passed up bids at higher office.
    He decided against running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination and resisted multiple efforts to get him to consider replacing Boehner. He also passed up the opportunity to seek Wisconsin's open Senate seat in 2012. Instead he said he wanted to become chairman of the powerful tax writing committee and be able to get home on weekends to go to his kids sporting events and attend Sunday mass.
    "These are not the same times as when he took that chairmanship," Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack told reporters on Friday. "We are leaderless right now and we need somebody to step forward that can bring the piece of our party back together again that are clearly fractured right now."
    For Ryan, the idea is to stay quiet over the congressional recess -- and make a decision eventually when the full conference begins to lobby him aggressively.
    "Look, there's going to be a lot of pressure building over the next two weeks," said Rep. David Jolly, R-Florida. "And the case that's going to be made to Paul is: 'The country needs you.' And at some point he is going to have to consider: Is he the right person?"
    And if Ryan decides not to run, Jolly had some advice if he wants some peace and quiet.
    "If Paul really means no, he better keep his phone off the next two weeks," Jolly said. "Or throw it in Lake Michigan."