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Ryan elected House speaker as Republicans try to halt chaos

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(Bloomberg) — Paul Ryan now has the job he said all along he never wanted.

The Wisconsin Republican was elected U.S. House speaker Thursday with a mandate to unite his fractious caucus — and no clear path to do it. The vote ends weeks of drama over who will lead the House after a hard-line Republican faction drove Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, to resign.

See also: Government Shutdown 2012: Reid’s Guy Calls Boehner’s People and John Boehner decries ‘false prophets’ in Republican party

Ryan inherits a party conference that’s divided over whether to cooperate with Democrats and the Obama administration to forge agreements such as the two-year budget deal passed Wednesday by the House, or instead use their power over the purse to try to force policy concessions from the president.

Ryan got 236 votes to 184 for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Conservative Republican Dan Webster of Florida got nine votes while three other people — including former Secretary of State Colin Powell — got one vote. In all, there were nine Republican defections from Ryan and three Democratic break-aways from Pelosi.

“We have nothing to fear from honest differences honestly stated. If you have ideas, let’s hear them,” Ryan, 45, plans to tell House members in a speech immediately after the election, according to his office. “A greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us.”

Some, including Boehner, say the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee — who now will be second in line to succeed the president — understands he may be ruining his chances of ever being elected president by taking the difficult job.

“I think he recognizes that,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday.

Freedom Caucus

Ryan has much to prove and perhaps little time to prove it. Some House Republicans, particularly the hardline conservative flank personified by the House Freedom Caucus, opposed the policy-making process under Boehner, including his willingness to compromise with Democrats.

Other House Republicans have grown tired of feuding between factions. Ryan is being promoted as someone who as speaker can help resolve internal party differences.

Freedom Caucus member Trent Franks of Arizona said Ryan “has the unique ability to create a compelling message and to disseminate it in a way that people understand it.”

Ryan promised to give rank-and-file Republicans a stronger say in running the House, but he also backed this week’s bipartisan two-year budget accord. The Freedom Caucus called the deal a “fiscal monstrosity.”

See also: House GOP Unveils Budget Plan

He only agreed to seek the job last week after initially telling colleagues he didn’t want it. First, he insisted on pledges of support from key Republican factions, including most of the three dozen conservatives who make up the Freedom Caucus.

Planned Parenthood

The Freedom Caucus’s push to shut down the government rather than continue funding Planned Parenthood, the women’s health provider whose services include abortion, played a major role in pushing Boehner, 65, to announce he would resign. Revolts by conservatives led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013, and the U.S. neared the brink of default in 2011 and 2013 as conservatives battled to attach policy changes to a debt-limit increase.

When he decided to run, Ryan told fellow Republicans he wanted them to unify behind him, end leadership crises and let him continue spending time with his family. Ryan said he didn’t want to spend weekends away from his wife and children for the extensive travel and fundraising that are part of the speaker’s job.

One thing that might come back to haunt him is his promise to Freedom Caucus members to follow an informal Republican policy allowing legislation to reach the floor only if most party members support it.

That would rule out, for example, the budget plan passed Wednesday with the support of 187 Democrats and just 79 Republicans. One-hundred sixty-seven Republicans voted no. Ryan voted for the bipartisan budget deal even though he said the secret process in which party leaders negotiated it “stinks.”

‘So-called rule’

“The approach that they would take would never have allowed this bipartisan budget deal to come to the floor,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, said after Wednesday’s vote. “I hope that the speaker will not be constrained by this so-called rule.”

Boehner had to rely on Democratic votes a number of other times to finance the government or get other must-pass bills through the House.

Ryan also said he wanted to make it harder to remove the speaker through a process known as a motion to vacate the chair. Freedom Caucus members’ threat to try to remove Boehner last month led to his Sept. 25 announcement that he would give up the job. Freedom Caucus members didn’t back Ryan’s proposal to change the process, and it’s unclear so far whether any revision will be made.

Ryan’s political trajectory has been upward in a Congress based on seniority. In college, he interned for U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten and spent time as a Capitol Hill staffer. Elected to the House in 1998 at age 28, this year he became the youngest chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee since 1861.

Budget committee

He forged a reputation as a no-nonsense legislator guarding against what he deemed excessive spending. During four years as Budget Committee chairman, Ryan proposed repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), cutting business tax rates, ending the estate tax and consolidating programs for low-income households.

He sought to overhaul Medicare, the health program for seniors, by giving future recipients a fixed amount of money to buy insurance. Democrats say his plans would shred the social safety net.

See also: In Florida, Medicare Is Not a Senior-Only Issue

He also has supported allowing 11 million undocumented immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a stance backed by most Democrats and passed in a bipartisan 2013 Senate vote but strongly opposed by most House Republicans. Freedom Caucus members said he promised them he wouldn’t hold a vote on major immigration legislation while President Barack Obama remains in office.

—With assistance from Terrence Dopp and Kathleen Miller in Washington.