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For Paul Ryan, Securing Conservative Support Is Just The Beginning


House Republicans vote later today on whether Paul Ryan will lead them as speaker. The last time Republicans tried to elect their next speaker of the House, the meeting ended in chaos after the front-runner, Kevin McCarthy, suddenly withdrew. This time around, Paul Ryan has already secured the support of most Republicans. That includes a majority of the most conservative and rebellious faction, the Freedom Caucus. NPR's congressional reporter, Susan Davis, joins me now to talk more about this. Good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Paul Ryan's victory seems pretty secure today. I - and I'm just saying that as if I know. Yes, correct?

DAVIS: Yes. I - you know, Paul Ryan is all but assured victory today. He has only token opposition from just one Republican, Dana Webster of Florida. Since today's vote is only for the nomination to be speaker, he only needs a majority of House Republicans. There's 247 of them. And this should be particularly easy as he has secured the endorsement of a number of different moderate and conservative factions of lawmakers. And while he has not - he doesn't have the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus, he has won a support of the majority of lawmakers that serve in it.

MONTAGNE: Well, those in the Freedom Caucus say they want the next speaker to have less power over the House, which is to say, them. Is Paul Ryan going to hand over some of his authority?

DAVIS: Not necessarily. What Congressman Ryan has made perfectly clear in this process is that he was not going to negotiate for a job he never wanted to begin with. So unlike the failed bid of Kevin McCarthy, he's less inclined to strike some sort of power-sharing deal with these conservatives. Now, that said, Ryan fundamentally agrees with many of these conservatives' complaints about how the House has been run, that it's been too top-down and that more legislation needs to come from the bottom up and that being committees. He is first and foremost a policy wonk, and he is a committee chairman. So he is with them on that. The challenge for him is going to be how do you balance these conservative purity policy positions with the political reality of a Democratic White House and powerful Democrats in the Senate. That dynamic is not going to change.

MONTAGNE: Well, also, Susan, a handful of congressional leaders and the White House just settled on a budget deal that lawmakers will be voting on any time now. That deal aims to eliminate the threat of a shutdown and a debt default until at least after the next president is sworn in. Paul Ryan did not have a role, apparently, in reaching this deal. So what's going on there?

DAVIS: He played no role in it, and that was specifically by design. House going speaker - House - outgoing House Speaker John Boehner said it was his intention to negotiate a deal that would, in his words, clean out the barn for Paul Ryan. He didn't want to have any fingerprints on the deal for the next speaker so he could start with this clean legislative slate with his own vision. But the model of this deal is based on a deal struck two years ago by Paul Ryan. So the format and the shape of the deal is something he helped invent. But the specifics of this deal he made very clear he did not help negotiate. Now, he did tell reporters yesterday that he thought the process by which it was negotiated stinks, that it was negotiated just by the top four congressional leaders in the White House. And what's going to be fascinating to watch is whether he is going to become part of these deals - these kinds of deals in the future.

MONTAGNE: So if Congress can pass this budget deal and there are no more fiscal cliffs in the foreseeable future, what is Paul Ryan's legislative agenda?

DAVIS: Well, we're going to hear about - more about that on Thursday. When he formally secures the gavel, he's going to address the House. Two things we know that Paul Ryan cares a lot about, re-overhauling the tax code, and, as a personal issue, he cares a lot about poverty and ending poverty in this country. So I think we might hear more about that.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's congressional reporter Susan Davis. And we will have more on the speaker race this afternoon on All Things Considered. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.

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