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Pressure mounts on Ryan to delay vote on his future

A moderate House Republican and longtime supporter of Paul Ryan is asking him to delay upcoming elections on whether to retain the current House leadership team — a potential sign of trouble for the speaker.

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) in recent days circulated a letter to fellow lawmakers calling the timing of the leadership elections — currently scheduled for Nov. 15, a day after lawmakers return from a seven-week recess – “ill advised.” Renacci’s office said 15 lawmakers have committed to sign on to the letter so far. They include several Republicans who have backed Ryan in the past and endorsed Donald Trump for president.

“There are fractures in the conference which truly need to be discussed, vetted and healed,” reads a draft of the letter, obtained by POLITICO. “Asking members to vote for a leadership team within 24 hours of their return to Washington without time to reflect on ways of coming together as a conference is truly ill advised. That in itself ignores the reality that the conference is divided…. There is no reason to hastily hold elections.”

The missive was shared on the condition that those who’ve signed on so far not be released until the letter is sent to leadership.

In an interview Saturday after this story was published, Renacci said he would hold off sending the letter because, after speaking with Ryan, he believes GOP leaders will push back the leadership elections. If that doesn’t happen in the next few days, Renacci said the group will move forward with sending the official request. GOP leadership sources pushed back on the notion that the internal elections will be postponed.

“I’m not one of those people who wants to stop Paul from being speaker,” Renacci said. “My concern is that our conference needs to come together before we talk about who are leaders are.”

Renacci would not say whether he will back Ryan for speaker. The Ohio lawmaker said he prefers to wait to see who is running before making up his mind, as Renacci said he did with former Speaker John Boehner.

“At this stage of the game, I don’t know who all is running,” Renacci said. “I’m very supportive of Paul, but when it comes to elections I want to see who’s in before committing (to) who I’m supporting.”

A delay would give Ryan’s critics more time to organize against him. Many of Trump’s top allies outside of Congress have indicated they’ll lay the blame at Ryan’s feet if the GOP nominee loses narrowly. That, combined with Freedom Caucus demands for rules and process changes that would decentralize power to rank-and-file members like themselves, could put Ryan in a serious pinch as he tries to round up support to retain his gavel.

The letter is already causing consternation. Multiple sources familiar with its contents and don’t support it, dismissed Renacci’s missive as a ploy to buy time. Renacci will be leaving for a congressional trip to London next week with a group of lawmakers, and they’re not supposed to return until leadership elections are getting underway. The current timetable could prevent one of them from running for a leadership post.

Renacci said he is planning to run for a leadership post and said the letter has nothing to do with the trip.

“This isn’t about me – it’s about the process,” he said. “This is about coming back after a divisive election on Nov. 8 and what we do on Nov. 9.”

Renacci said the party needs to come together and “vent” and “make sure we’re all on the same page and then we can move forward.” He said lawmakers may emerge from such a conference and decide there will be no changes to leadership.

Some of the lawmakers who Renacci’s office said have committed to signing the letter were early supporters of Trump and have also been reliable votes for Ryan and leadership. The list also includes two Freedom Caucus members. A source said the signers aren’t necessarily agitating to vote against Ryan; their point is to have a “family discussion.” But it indicates that a clutch of Trump backers is still not happy about how Ryan distanced himself from Trump.

Any pockets of resistance to Ryan or his election plans are significant. It could take only a small number of Republicans to block him from clinching another term as speaker.

The letter requests that elections be delayed until at least the latter part of the first week back from recess, but also notes that House rules allow for leadership elections as late as Dec. 20.

The letter suggests that Ryan may have a bigger problem than just Freedom Caucus members who won’t say whether they support him for another term as speaker.

The moderate and centrist part of the conference is Ryan’s stronghold for reelection. Renacci worked with Ryan on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Ryan during the Republican National Convention this summer appeared at one of Renacci’s pet-project fundraisers to raise money for a mentoring program for inner city children.

Renacci has also been a full-throated Trump backer, introducing the Republican nominee and Mike Pence at rallies and sitting in Trump’s private box at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

GOP leaders are currently scheduled to return from recess on the evening of Monday, Nov. 14, then vote the next morning in conference on whom to nominate for leadership posts, including speaker. Ryan needs a majority of the Republican Conference to support his nomination during that secret-ballot election. He’ll need 218 votes on the House floor in January to seal another term in the job.

Ryan’s office declined to comment on the letter.

Freedom Caucus members have also said they want to push back the leadership elections. They want to see how Ryan performs in the lame duck session and what sort of rules and process changes he commits to. The group, however, has not sent a formal request to Ryan.

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