House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision Wednesday not to seek re-election raised immediate speculation about whether Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, will attempt to wrest power from the moderate House Republican leadership after the election.
For his part, Jordan insisted Republicans’ focus right now wasn’t on the next speaker; instead it was about making sure the party continues to hold the House majority.
He said it was “way too early to talk about who’s running” for speaker, refusing to rule in or out the possibility he himself might run.
“What I’m focused on doing for the next six months is making sure that we’re getting something done with the mandate of 2016,” he said.
But others argued that it would be hard for Jordan and fellow Freedom Caucus conservatives to get the 218 votes to take the speakership. The caucus of conservative lawmakers, which Jordan founded, currently consists of about 40 members.
“How do you go from 40 votes to 218?” one Ohio Republican said, speaking anonymously in order to speak with candor. “It’s hard math.”
For other Republicans and political analysts, news of Ryan’s retirement suggests he’s not confident about holding onto the majority.
“They might have a one-in-three chance in holding the House at this point,” said David Wasserman, congressional analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington, of Republicans.
Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who served as an adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, said, “Obviously with an unpopular president and a lot of retirements and not too big a majority to begin with, it’s certainly possible” Republicans could lose control of the House.
“We could lose the Senate; we could lose the House,” Conant said. “Or we could hold them both. But it’s going to be a very competitive mid-term election. The trends in the special elections have been ominous, but we have a long way to go between now and November.”
Former House Speaker John Boehner, who stepped down in 2015 after sparring repeatedly with Jordan’s Freedom Caucus, said Ryan only took the job reluctantly, and made clear at the time that his chief goal was to win congressional passage of a major overhaul of the nation’s income tax code.
“He accepted the fact that he had to do this job and I think he did it well, but tax reform was always his baby and he got his job done,” Boehner said in an interview.
Rep. Steve Stivers, an Upper Arlington Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, also insisted the decision had nothing to do with politics.
“This was about Janesville, Wisconsin, not Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This was about him having kids that are getting older and he’s been at this a long time and he’s now been Speaker and he’s got some real legacy items that he’s made a huge difference for our country on. And he decided it was time.”
Still, it’s hard to discount the challenge facing Republicans this fall. In the House, Republicans hold 237 seats compared to 192 for Democrats while six seats are vacant. Counting Ryan, 46 House Republicans are either retiring, seeking another office or have joined the Trump administration. By contrast, 19 House Democrats are leaving, while another open seat was created when Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York died last month.
Jeff Sadosky, a former adviser to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Ryan “didn’t want this job. He took it out of a feeling of responsibility.” But between the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump, whose lawyer had his offices raided just this week; a divided conference and other policy challenges, “it has to be one of the most hateful jobs in Washington,” Sadosky said.
At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Ryan told reporters he doubted whether “a person’s race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan is speaker or not. Look, if we do our jobs, which we are, we’re going to be fine as a majority.”
Local Republicans were quick to praise the retiring speaker.
“I applaud Paul Ryan for taking the Speaker’s gavel at a critical time and leading with great humility, purpose, and vision,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, who added that while the two “didn’t agree on everything,” “I’m thankful for his leadership, service, and friendship.”
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, meanwhile, said Ryan “has worked throughout his career to make life better for hard working Americans.”