Hard-line conservatives cleared a path late Wednesday for Rep. Paul Ryan to become House speaker when a majority of some of the most disgruntled House Republicans signaled that they would support his bid for the top job.
The decision to back Ryan by the 40-member House Freedom Caucus, which has risen in power and stature since its founding this year, came after the Ways and Means chairman spent much of his day courting its support.
“A supermajority of the caucus has agreed to support Paul Ryan,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) after a lengthy evening meeting.
However, it was not immediately clear whether that support — which fell short of a formal endorsement — would meet the most challenging condition Ryan set out Tuesday for serving as speaker: unity among all of the House Republican Conference’s warring factions.
In a statement made after the Freedom Caucus meeting, Ryan did not say whether the vote met his terms but signaled that he did not view it as a rejection.
“I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team,” he said.
Ryan could still decide not to serve as speaker, and some conservative activists have engaged in a vigorous campaign to cast doubt on Ryan, which might give some members cold feet before votes are cast next week.
But the support represents the first thaw in the increasingly frosty relationship between tea party conservatives and establishment Republicans. It also paves the way for fresh GOP leadership heading into imminent debates over the national debt and federal spending.
The Freedom Caucus met with Ryan for an hour in the Capitol earlier in the day. Many of its members had balked at the conditions Ryan attached to his decision to serve as speaker, and the meeting represented their first chance to question him directly on his intentions.
The meeting broke up without resolution, setting up a high-stakes decision for a group that played a key role in easing the current speaker, John A. Boehner, into retirement and blocking Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to succeed him.
The group reconvened Wednesday evening to debate whether to abandon their previous endorsement of Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) to back Ryan, who said Tuesday that a Freedom Caucus endorsement is a prerequisite for him to agree to serve as speaker.