In an impressive demonstration of Republican unity, the House of Representatives elected Paul Ryan to be its next speaker Thursday morning by a comfortable margin.
Ryan easily surpassed the majority of votes cast overall that he needed to become speaker, and even picked up the support of many of the most conservative members of the House; 236 of the 245 Republicans present and voting backed his candidacy. Meanwhile, 184 of the 187 Democrats present voted for Nancy Pelosi.
The few protest votes went to scattered people, none of whom had been officially nominated:
- Nine Republicans voted for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL). They were Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA), Curt Clawson (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Walter Jones (R-NC), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Bill Posey (R-FL), Randy Weber (R-TX), and Ted Yoho (R-FL).
- One Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as he has done before.
- Another Democrat, Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL), voted for Jim Cooper.
- And another Democrat, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), voted for Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
Overall, though, the vote was lopsided because the biggest threat to any Republican establishment speaker — the far-right Freedom Caucus — had decided not to imperil Ryan's candidacy on the floor. Indeed, the vast majority of its members backed Ryan.
The budget and debt ceiling deal will let Ryan start with a honeymoon
Despite Thursday's show of unity, there are reasons to doubt that Ryan will be able to keep House Republicans together in the long term, as Matt Yglesias laid out this week.
Luckily for Ryan, though, Boehner did him a big favor on the way out — striking a deal with the Senate and White House to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through March 2017.
Fights over must-pass legislation like this have consumed much of the Boehner speakership, since far-right conservatives have consistently pushed to use these bills as a way to try to force President Obama to accept conservative policy priorities.
But now these matters are out of the way for the rest of the Obama presidency. So for the next year or so, Speaker Ryan can focus on crafting a policy agenda for the GOP, and on reforming House rules. (Ryan wants to make the "motion to vacate," a way to force an effective vote of no confidence in the speakership, more difficult to invoke. The far-right Freedom Caucus has its own ideas for reform, some of which are actually pretty good.)
By the time the debt ceiling and government funding come up again in early 2017, either a Democrat will be president, in which case these old fights will recur, or a Republican will have retaken the White House, in which case a new dynamic will be at work.