WASHINGTON (AP) — The hardline House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday it is supporting Rep. Paul Ryan for speaker of the House, all but guaranteeing he'll get the job, and potentially heralding a new start for a deeply divided House GOP.
The group of around three dozen rebellious conservatives, who have caused fits for the GOP leadership, stressed that their support for Ryan was not an official endorsement because they couldn't muster the 80 percent agreement such an announcement would require. Yet members of the rebellious group made clear that their intent was to unite behind Ryan and give him the consensus he has said he needs to seek the speakership.
"A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan's bid to become the next speaker of the House," the group said in a statement. "Paul is a policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects, and he has promised to be an ideas-focused speaker who will advance limited government principles and devolve power to the membership."
Support from the group was not certain since they've repeatedly opposed GOP leaders and pushed the current speaker, John Boehner, to announce his resignation. And their backing fell short of the official endorsement Ryan had sought.
But in a statement, the former GOP vice presidential candidate said: "I'm grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus. I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team."
Especially given the Freedom Caucus' pattern of causing headaches for leadership, and the concerns raised by individual members ahead of Wednesday night's meeting, the decision to announce support was significant. It amounted to a rare peace offering from hardliners in the caucus to the establishment-minded lawmakers they've battled for years, and a chance to unite a party at war with itself on Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said the choice was now up to Ryan, who must decide "whether he wants to really lead the conference."
"I think he's a good man," said Labrador, who said he voted for Ryan in the Freedom Conference meeting. "I think he's that somebody who could bring the Republican Party together, he's obviously a good spokesman for the party. And I think he needs to see if this is good enough for him and if he can work with us."
Caucus members, including Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona, said Ryan now appears to have more than enough support to prevail in a secret-ballot House GOP election set for Oct. 28, and in a vote of the full House the next day.
"He has a supermajority of the Freedom Caucus, which means that he clearly has more than enough votes from the conference, if other people vote in kind, to get elected by a pretty healthy margin," said Salmon.
The Wisconsin congressman, a reluctant candidate for the post, was asked to run by mainstream party leaders seeking to resolve a crisis set in motion when compromise-averse conservatives pushed Boehner to resign and then pressured his likely successor into withdrawing.
The same intraparty divide is roiling the Republicans' presidential campaign, with outsiders led by Donald Trump dominating the field for months.
On Wednesday, some House members took issue with Ryan's suggested changes to congressional rules and even his desire to balance family life with the demands of the job. Freedom Caucus members said that in offering their support for Ryan they were not embracing the changes he sought.
"No other speaker candidate came in and said here's the list of my demands, either meet those or I'm not going to do this," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. "Speaker's a big job. And it's not a 9-to-5 job. So there are a lot of questions to be answered."
The Freedom Caucus earlier had endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, a low-key former speaker of the House in Florida who's focused on "pushing down" on what he calls the "pyramid of power" in the House. Caucus members said that while that endorsement still technically stands, their support for Ryan supersedes it.
The Freedom Caucus announcement came as Ryan was making the rounds to the three major House caucuses whose endorsements he was seeking as a condition for running for speaker. It's a job the 45-year-old never wanted but is exploring, he says, out of a sense of duty after Boehner announced his resignation and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly withdrew from the running to replace him.
Ryan has made clear that he does not want to be the latest victim of Republican dysfunction and will run only if it becomes clear he can unify the House GOP.
"I won't be the third log on the bonfire," he said.
Boehner, who hopes to leave Congress at the end of this month, sought to move the process forward, scheduling elections for next week.
"If I can be a unifying figure in our conference, I'm willing to step up and be one, it's just that simple," Ryan said ahead of the Freedom Caucus announcement. "If not, then it's OK, I'll just go back to Ways and Means."
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick and Deb Riechmann contributed.