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What Would Paul Ryan Do As Speaker Of A House Divided?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And here in Washington, D.C. the news is that Paul Ryan is in. The former vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin congressman might soon be adding a new title, speaker of the House. He said last night that he is officially running for that job. House Republicans are set to vote Wednesday, and there will be a full vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday, when Ryan is expected to become speaker. Although, the saga surrounding the speaker's job of late has certainly brought plenty of surprises. Let's bring in NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro. He's on the line. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So Paul Ryan, I guess the first thing we should say is this is a job that he did not seem to want not so long ago.

MONTANARO: Not at all. I mean, it's obviously a very difficult job, I mean we know this, right. John Boehner has said - I thought one of the funniest quotes from him earlier this year was that his goal every day is to try to keep 218 frogs in a wheel barrel long enough to get something passed.

GREENE: That frames it for us, doesn't it (laughter).

MONTANARO: I was just going to say, I think that probably tells you all you need to know about how tough this job is.

GREENE: Well, I mean, now that Ryan has gotten to yes and agreed to this, what do we know about how he got there? I mean, you know, behind the scenes, I mean, at least publically, he said he needed some demands met. He needed to feel like there was a unified party behind him. Were there deals made behind the scenes that got this agreement, for him to do this?

MONTANARO: Well, there were no deals. The one thing, though, about this that's kind of funny - I mean, it feels like Paul Ryan's like a kid who moved away from home. You know, but his dad gets sick. He's got to go back and run the family business. It's really not something he wanted to do but felt obligated to do. I mean, there is tremendous pressure on Ryan. John Boehner in particular wanted him to be the guy, mostly because he was the only person who could get 218 votes, which is pretty amazing if you think about that. In a letter to colleagues last night, Ryan argued that "let's put the past behind us and start with a clean slate," quote unquote. So, you know, a Ryan aide last night told me that there was no secret deal between Ryan and the House Freedom Caucus, most importantly that there is no deal on this, what's known as this motion to vacate. That's really key here because that maneuver could oust a speaker. It's the biggest weapon the Freedom Caucus has. They threatened Boehner with it. It's part of why he stepped down. We know this. We heard him talk about that. And Ryan didn't want to negotiate on his own, with one subset of the House. That's I think a really important part. He feels that any changes that would need to be made would be made as a team by the broader House Conference. And here's the thing - and this could be Ryan's leverage - the aide also said that Ryan's confident Republican's will get rid of the motion to vacate at some point but that it's going to be with a broader conference. Now, get this; that would only need a majority of the House Republicans, and I think there's a majority there in favor of it.

GREENE: So likely that this motion to vacate might go away. So that won't be hanging over Paul Ryan. But at the moment, I mean, isn't he still in the same position as Boehner? Is anything guarantying that he will be a consensus candidate?

MONTANARO: Absolutely, and that's part of the problem. You know, I mean, Ryan has really gained a reputation for being able to frame a message, right? And, I mean, that's kind of why he was able to become this consensus candidate. He's able to put a political message together. His colleagues see him as someone who fought for conservative principles with his budget proposals in the past. But he's really still in the very similar pickle that Boehner is for sure.

GREENE: Well, you know, a lot of the talk about Paul Ryan was that he did not want this job because he sort of has his sights set on the White House at some point. And this would not be the easiest path to the White House. Even though he's doing this, I mean, are his political ambitions still very big?

MONTANARO: You know, I'm sure they are. I mean, the thing is, I don't know that he actually - you know, president - he was sort of scarred by the vice presidency, the run for the vice president. I think he really wanted to reform the tax code, as geeky as that sounds. I think he really wanted to do that. But he's only 45. He's the youngest speaker in a century. And let me put it this way, if - and this is an enormous if 'cause of everything we just talked about. If Ryan can bring order to this Republican House, his future in Republican politics, pretty limitless.

GREENE: All right, Domenico, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

GREENE: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, speaking to us about Paul Ryan, who is officially running for speaker of the House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.