Paul Ryan Hasn’t Retired Yet, but the Battle to Replace Him Has Begun

Rep. Steve Scalise.
Rep. Steve Scalise.
Pool/Getty Images

In the latest development of the House Speaker Paul Ryan Is Definitely Not Considering Retirement saga, we have a leading candidate to replace Ryan, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, speaking on the record about how he’s interested in the top job.

“In an interview Tuesday in Louisiana’s southern-most port,” Politico writes, “Scalise acknowledged his desire to lead the conference someday but said now isn’t the time to discuss it.” But what the hell? He discussed it a little bit anyway.

“Obviously, I’ve shown interest in the past at moving up,” Scalise said. “I’ve enjoyed … leadership.” And, for good measure, he made sure to note a qualification he can run on: “I feel like I’ve had a strong influence on some of the things that we’ve done, and I’ve helped put together coalitions to pass a full repeal of Obamacare.”

But again, all very hypothetical.

The Ryan retirement rumors first burst into the open in December when HuffPost and Politico published stories about when the speaker would be out the door—something that, were Ryan considering it, he wouldn’t muse openly about for a variety of reasons. Despite his denials, the rumors have persisted, though predictions about how Ryan might bounce once tax reform cleared the chamber obviously didn’t pan out.

The whispers surfaced again earlier this week when Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei, bless his heart, said in an interview that “the rumor mill is that Paul Ryan is getting ready to resign in the next 30 to 60 days and that Steve Scalise will be the new speaker.” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who long ago stopped caring about potential consequences for opening his mouth, told a radio station this week that “every indication is that Paul Ryan is not going to run for re-election.”

Brooks noted that the chatter about Ryan’s replacement is “primarily focused” on Scalise for two reasons: his “heroic” standing after being shot at a congressional baseball practice last year, and the fact he’s more conservative than the current No. 2, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. When Scalise was elevated to leadership, after all, he was brought on as a sort of liaison between leaders and the conservative wing of the party.

“Scalise’s allies” tell Politico that if Ryan left and McCarthy wanted the job, Scalise wouldn’t challenge him. But that’s not as magnanimous as it seems. McCarthy dropped out of the race to replace John Boehner in 2015 when a series of issues—his comments about the House Benghazi investigation, his relative lack of conservatism, rumors of infidelity—made it clear that he would struggle to get 218 Republican votes. It is unlikely that McCarthy, over the past three years, has become acceptably conservative to the Freedom Caucus.

Politico writes that Scalise would “make a move, however, only if [McCarthy] were not to run or fell short.” And who’s to know for sure whether McCarthy wouldn’t have the votes? Perhaps the current House majority whip.