By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday acknowledged the unthinkable for a Republican leader: he could not deliver the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, even though he and his fellow Republicans had vowed to do so for seven years.
Nevertheless, Ryan's job did not seem to be under immediate threat, at least not in the House of Representatives he leads.
Ryan's long-time news media nemesis, the website Breitbart, said Republicans were "openly discussing" finding a replacement for him after he pulled a bill to roll back Obamacare from the House floor just minutes before an intensely awaited final vote. The Breitbart article did not quote anyone by name.
In the House, just after the bill was pulled, several lawmakers brushed aside suggestions that the failure spelled trouble for Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, who many have speculated has presidential ambitions.
Ryan, 47, has been speaker since October 2015. Under the law, he is next in line to the presidency after Vice President Mike Pence.
Republican Representative Justin Amash, a harsh critic of the ill-fated healthcare bill, told reporters, "We can do better with the legislative process." But, he added, "Nobody is talking about" trying to oust Ryan as speaker.
Amash had disparagingly dubbed the Republican healthcare bill "Obamacare 2.0," after Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
Amash is a member of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, which in 2015 ousted Ryan's predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, from the post. The caucus played a key role in the demise of the healthcare bill.
Ryan chose to make healthcare reform the first target on a list of legislative goals for the new Republican-majority Congress. He admitted on Friday that he was disappointed by the outcome.
Republicans faced resistance to the healthcare bill from both conservatives and moderates, making the process of winning passage difficult for the leadership.
Republican Representative Joe Barton, asked about the impact of Friday's loss on Ryan, told reporters: "The speaker is a human being. He's not Superman."
Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk, who backed the healthcare bill, said he didn't think the loss weakened the speaker's hand.
One Republican lawmaker who has been considered potential speaker material, Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, effusively praised Ryan, saying he had shown "phenomenal leadership."
"It is my hope that we can regroup and rally behind him (Ryan) and the president as a conference to deliver on our promise" to dismantle Obamacare, Hensarling said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Dustin Volz; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)