House Republicans on Wednesday nominated Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, long seen as one of the party's brightest stars, to become their next speaker and standard-bearer.
The internal party vote to choose a successor for outgoing Speaker John Boehner took place behind closed doors in an afternoon meeting. According to a tally announced inside the room, Ryan won support from 200 of the 247-member GOP conference. A House floor vote to select the new speaker is set for Thursday morning, bringing an end to a five-week scramble to find Boehner's replacement.
"I expected he would do very well, and he did," said Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
Bill Flores of Texas, Republican Study Committee chair, said he expected Ryan to lose no more than 20 votes on the floor Thursday. "That would show a united front," he said.
Wednesday's nomination vote comes hours before the House is set to vote on a controversial fiscal deal negotiated by Boehner that would increase government spending by $80 billion through September 2017 and raise the federal debt limit.
In a potential wrinkle to his recent effort to unify a divided House GOP, Ryan on Thursday bucked pressure to oppose the deal from conservatives who worked to force Boehner from office, saying the agreement would help "wipe the slate clean" as he ascends to the top job.
Ryan, the 45-year-old chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement the deal has "some good, some bad, and some ugly" but will ultimately "go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us."
"It's time for us to turn the page on the last few years and get to work on a bold agenda that we can take to the American people," he said.
That announcement came a day after he told reporters that the process that led to the deal "stinks" and pledged to handle these kinds of major fiscal negotiations in a different way.
Most conservatives said earlier in the week they were sharply opposed to the budget deal but also said that they did not intend to hold it against Ryan. Many, however, said they would like Ryan to oppose the deal as a sign of good faith - even though Ryan had personally negotiated a very similar budget deal back in 2013.
But there were signs that they might look past Ryan's policy positions if he makes good on his process-oriented promises.
Ryan on Tuesday endorsed a GOP conference review of existing rules and said he was committed to implementing changes by January: "It's clear that members of the House and the American people have lost faith in how this place works. And naming a new speaker alone isn't enough to fix it. We need a robust dialogue about improving the process so that each member has a greater voice, and we need a firm deadline to implement changes."
Ryan faces one opponent, Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who has gained a small but loyal following among hard-right lawmakers and fellow Floridians who have been drawn to his promises for reforming House rules and procedures.
But many of those who supported Webster when he was pitted against McCarthy now say they are prepared to back Ryan after he reassured them over the past 10 days that he intends to move forward with many of the same reforms.
Ryan has also made attempts to quell doubts about some of his policy positions that have left conservatives wary - mainly his past support for immigration reform legislation. In a Wednesday morning conference meeting, Ryan rose and pledged not to pursue any immigration bill unless it had the support of a majority of House Republicans.
That pledge helped persuade members like Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who said Tuesday he would support Webster in the nomination vote Wednesday but vote for Ryan on the floor.
"Based on his assurances on not bringing up immigration bills that are bad for our country, I anticipate that I will vote for him on the House floor," he said.
Wednesday's meeting will be the second time Republicans have gathered to choose Boehner's replacement. An Oct. 8 meeting was abruptly cut short when the previous presumptive nominee, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told colleagues he would not in fact seek the speaker's chair in the face of determined opposition from hard-line conservatives.
Rising to formally nominate Ryan Wednesday will be Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who enjoys a near-impeccable reputation among House conservatives that has been burnished in recent months by his leadership of a special committee investigating the 2012 attacks on U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya.
Gowdy's nomination speech, and Wednesday's vote, will take place in the same House hearing room where, a week ago, Gowdy and the Benghazi panel questioned former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for 11 hours.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas,, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, are also expected to speak on Ryan's behalf, a spokesman said.