WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan is under fire from fellow Republicans upset with his messy political divorce from Donald Trump, with some threatening an effort to oust him.
So far, the rumblings are limited and no one has advanced a potential replacement nearly as respected among colleagues as the Wisconsin Republican. That suggests an uphill path to deposing Ryan, who was his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and could harbor White House ambitions.
The Nov. 8 election seems sure to shrink the House GOP’s majority. If Trump loses the presidential race to Democrat Hillary Clinton, disgruntled conservatives wouldn’t need many votes to topple Ryan.
Conservatives could use the mere threat of a coup to seek legislative concessions from him. They also could spend Congress’ postelection lame-duck session and 2017 making his job of commanding the House profoundly unpleasant.
A look at Ryan’s headaches:
Q: Why the dissatisfaction?
A: Some Republicans say Ryan damaged Trump’s chances by abandoning him.
Ryan delayed his endorsement of Trump and spent months criticizing the nominee’s comments on women and others. In return, Trump has relentlessly slammed the nation’s highest elected GOP official.
After the 2005 video emerged showing Trump boasting about groping women, Ryan said he would not defend the Trump and would campaign solely to protect Republican control of Congress. Ryan told colleagues to handle Trump’s candidacy however they wished, which many Republicans considered smart.
“If we lose the presidency, it won’t be because of anything Paul Ryan did or didn’t do,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
Q: Who’s unhappy?
A: Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, who have a history of defying GOP leaders as insufficiently doctrinaire that predates Trump’s emergence. Last year, they chased former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, from Congress.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a Freedom Caucus member, said growing numbers of people “question the loyalty of the speaker” toward Trump. Meadows recently told WAAV radio of Wilmington, North Carolina, that there will be “real discussions after Nov. 8 on who our leadership will be.”
Another caucus member, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said he wants to see whether Ryan plans to pursue a Pacific Rim trade pact or broker deals with Clinton, if she’s elected president, to ease immigration curbs or boost budget deficits. “It will all be over” if Ryan does that, Brat said in an interview, because it would show “the D.C. class has learned nothing.”
But the GOP caucus is divided. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he has no desire to replace Ryan and said any speaker in today’s divided government “is doomed to turmoil.”
Q: Anyone else?
A: Other Republicans believe Ryan should have helped Trump or not split so sharply with him. A significant segment of the party’s base is fiercely loyal to Trump; GOP lawmakers ignore them at their peril.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said in an interview that if Trump loses narrowly, “Ryan will be blamed for that loss and there will be serious discussion” about replacing him.
Q: Do a few irritated Republicans matter?
A: Republicans hold a 247-188 House majority, including three vacancies. Democrats should gain 10 or more seats in November, perhaps more than 20.
A 20-seat Democratic pickup would leave a 227-208 GOP edge. For the 218 votes Ryan needs to assure victory when the House elects its speaker in January, he could lose just nine Republicans because Democrats won’t support him.
The Freedom Caucus has about 40 members. When Ryan was elected speaker last October, nine Republicans voted for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who abstained.
Ryan should know where he stands by mid-November, when Republicans plan to pick their candidate for speaker.
Q: What would Trump do?
A: He and others might seek revenge.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign’s chief executive, ran Breitbart News, a conservative website that recently ran an article lambasting Ryan for sharing “a progressive, globalist worldview” with Clinton.
Rohrabacher said he thinks a President Trump would pressure Republicans to replace Ryan with someone “who didn’t betray him.”
Trump campaign officials did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Q: What about Ryan?
A: Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said he is running for speaker.
Colleagues say they think if he lacked sufficient support, he would avert an embarrassing, televised House rejection and leave Congress.
Most GOP lawmakers say they think Ryan will prevail, especially if Republicans keep House control but lose their Senate majority and don’t win the White House.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, are mentioned as potential replacements. Nobody thinks any Freedom Caucus member has enough support to become speaker.
During the lame-duck session, Congress will have to approve spending legislation or face a government shutdown. Next year, it will need to renew government borrowing authority or risk a federal default. Both are likely to involve compromises with Democrats that will anger conservatives — confrontations that make the speaker’s job one that many lawmakers are happy to avoid.
“If people want to engage in their half-baked political threats, they might want to tell us who their champion is,” said moderate Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.