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Tag, You're It: House GOP Leaders Pressure Paul Ryan To Enter Speaker Race


Glad you're with us. As you are about to hear, Republicans in the House of Representatives have not lost their sense of humor, even as they try to figure out what's next in their leadership. Republicans are still in a bit of a daze after majority leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race for House speaker yesterday. He says he did it because he knew he wouldn't be a consensus candidate. So now the pressure is on Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to run for the position, but it's a job that's not very appealing. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports from the Capitol.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: During this time of tremendous turmoil, House Republicans are searching desperately for wisdom on how to come together. And in these introspective moments, Republican Rich Nugent of Florida says he finds inspiration in hedgehogs.

RICH NUGENT: It's a cute little story, and it's about hedgehogs that found that they had to stick together in a brutal winter. And they get all close, and they could survive that way.

CHANG: But they kept pricking each other with their quills, so...

NUGENT: They tried it apart because it was painful. And they started to die off, so then they figured out, OK, we got to come back together. And it's kind of like we are.

CHANG: So the moral of the story for Republicans is...


NUGENT: Overlook the pricks in life. And so - am I going to hear that again? (Laughter).

CHANG: Take a few jabs for the greater good. And there's one person many House Republicans say should step up for that greater good - Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Republican heavy-hitters are begging him to run for speaker. And he said no before three times, but the pleadings only intensified. Republican Darrell Issa of California says Ryan can hide for only so long.

DARRELL ISSA: Too many of us have his phone number, know where he works out in the morning. And he is obviously dealing with the fact that this isn't the job he asked for or even wants but maybe a job that the conference needs him to take.

CHANG: There are so many reasons for Ryan to say no. The speaker is a punching bag. He has to lead a caucus with lots of members who don't want to be led. But Republican Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia says Ryan is maybe the only person who can get the 218 votes needed to become speaker.

LYNN WESTMORELAND: I mean, he was a vice presidential candidate. He's put forth great ideas from the Ways and Means about restructuring the taxes, and I think everyone who trusts him.

CHANG: Tag - you're it, Paul Ryan. There's talk about having him be just a temporary speaker until after the 2016 election. Jason Chaffetz of Utah says he'll drop out of the speaker's race if Ryan declares. In the meantime, he wants his colleagues to hash it out.

JASON CHAFFETZ: The drumbeat I heard in there - let's get it right rather than get it done fast, and I think that's great.

CHANG: There will be time to mull. The House is on recess next week, and Steve Womack of Arkansas is already bracing himself for the earful when he goes home.

STEVE WOMACK: They're not going to be asking me about the budget. They're not going to be asking me about the debt ceiling. They're not going to be asking me about how we're going to fund highways. What they're going to be asking me is, when are you guys going to get your fill-in-the-blank together?

CHANG: Not likely soon. Some hard-line conservatives are already questioning Paul Ryan's conservative street cred. He supported immigration reform and cut budget deals with Democrats. But Womack says Republicans need to the focus on the big picture.

WOMACK: I think this is part of the narrative in the 2016 elections. Can the governing majority actually govern? And we appear, right now, not to be governable.

CHANG: True, House Republicans may look like they can't stop fighting. But they say they're just channeling the anger of the people who voted them into office. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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