Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan put his cards on the table Tuesday night, letting his Republican colleagues know that if he's to become the next House speaker, he'll do so on his own terms -- or not at all.
Like a sought-after recruit at a struggling law firm, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee came into the negotiations with leverage. And it showed. After initially turning down the job, the affable-but-shrewd Wisconsin congressman outlined a set of significant demands that would need to be met in order for him to run:
- He wants broad support across the Republican conference, specifically the endorsement of all the major caucuses.
- He wants House rules changed to overhaul what is known as the "motion to vacate the chair" -- a parliamentary weapon members can use to try and oust a speaker.
- He wants to be able to spend time with his family, and not be on the road as much as previous speakers.
Ryan, outlining these conditions, then gave colleagues until Friday to express their views. And he made clear that if he doesn't get what he wants, he'd be "happy" to stay where he is, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
It's unclear whether the my-way-or-the-highway gambit will work. While senior Republicans wanted Ryan to run, seeing him as the best hope to unify the conference after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bowed out, there's no guarantee that conservative groups like the House Freedom Caucus will indeed grant Ryan's wishes.
Some were openly skeptical of his announcement Tuesday. One GOP source said Ryan doesn't want the job, but just wants members to believe he does so he doesn't "look bad for not trying to save the party."
Specifically, Ryan's demand that the "motion to vacate the chair" be overhauled could be, as one lawmaker put it, a "non-starter" for the House Freedom Caucus and its 30-40 members. Several members in the group told Fox News Tuesday night that they had no intention of giving up this tool for Ryan.
Further, it's far from certain that Ryan could extract an endorsement from the caucus, in order to be the unity candidate he envisions. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the leaders of the caucus, said Tuesday that Ryan had laid out "unacceptable conditions."
The House Freedom Caucus had already endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., for the job when McCarthy was running, and so far that doesn't appear to have changed. Webster also signaled Tuesday he's still running, even as another candidate for the job, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, bowed out to make room for Ryan. Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, though, said they would meet with Ryan and are "open" to him.
Ryan met behind closed doors with the House Freedom Caucus members Wednesday afternoon. When he left the meeting, he told reporters, "Nice meeting. We had a good chat."
After the meeting, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said it was "still to be determined" if he would support Ryan.
Fox News was told that in a vote by the caucus earlier on Wednesday, most members voted in favor of Ryan, but the group did not reach the 80 percent threshold to endorse him.
On the heels of Ryan's earlier comments, House Speaker John Boehner told the House Republican Conference on Wednesday that they will vote internally for speaker on Oct. 28, followed by a full floor vote on Oct. 29.
In total, Ryan or any candidate would need roughly 218 votes to win the speakership.
On Tuesday, Ryan said, "My greatest worry is the consequence of not stepping up."
He said the country is in "desperate need for leadership."
At the same time, he made clear he could back out.
"What I told the members is if you can agree to the requests, and if I can be a truly unifying figure, I'll serve," Ryan said. "And if I'm not a unifying force, that will be fine as well. I'm happy to stay where I am."
While his conditions may be steep, multiple sources told Fox News that GOP leaders and others pushed Ryan so hard that he felt he had to at least get to this point, and outline the conditions for a run.
Those same sources also say Ryan has engineered a way out if necessary, by making significant demands that are hard to meet. If Ryan ultimately does not enter the race, it's unclear who might step up to run for the job -- and more importantly, who would be able to muster 218 votes.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.