House Republicans, seeking unity, elect Ryan speaker

Republicans rallied behind Rep. Paul Ryan to elect him to the powerful post of House speaker on Thursday as the splintered party turned to the youthful but battle-tested lawmaker to mend its self-inflicted wounds and craft a conservative message to woo voters in next year’s elections.

In a roll call, 236 Republicans called out Mr. Ryan, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, as their pick for the top job. That put Mr. Ryan second in line to the presidency and atop a chamber that has been awash in tumult ever since defiant conservatives hounded Rep. John Boehner, into announcing his resignation from that post last month.

Just nine hard-line conservatives voted against Mr. Ryan, instead backing a little known Florida lawmaker. Most of them, including members of the rebellious House Freedom Caucus, backed Mr. Ryan, though it was clear that future tensions between them and Ryan could not be discounted.

The House is broken,” Mr. Ryan said in his first remarks to the chamber, seemingly referring as much to a Republican civil war between hard-liners and pragmatists as to the House’s usual partisan divisions. “We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.”

Mr. Ryan’s ascension came as Congress nears completion of a bipartisan accord to avert a jarring federal default next week and likely prevent a December government shutdown by setting spending levels for the next two years. The House approved the bill on Wednesday 266-167, with final Senate passage on track in a few days, despite opposition from conservatives including senators seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

The budget vote underscored Mr. Ryan’s challenge in leading Republicans who often have scant interest in compromise, especially with a Republican presidential contest dominated by candidates who vilify Washington insiders. Republicans opposed the budget deal by 167-79, but Democrats supported it unanimously.

Conservatives complain that Mr. Boehner has been excessively powerful, forcing bills to the House floor without rank-and-file input, dictating committee chairs and punishing rebels. One leader of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, Rep. Raul Labrador, said conservatives expect Mr. Ryan to alter that.

“We’re going to have his back for the next few months and make sure that we give him the opportunity to show that he can be the leader that we hope he can be,” Mr. Labrador said.

Amiable and just 45, Mr. Ryan has been in Congress 17 years and has strong ties with all wings of the Republican Party. Past chairman of the House Budget Committee and current head of the Ways and Means panel, he’s put his imprint on deficit reduction, tax, health and trade legislation prime subjects that have raised his stature and put him at the centre of many of Congress’ highest profile debates.

Many Democrats like Mr. Ryan but none hesitate to attack him as a symbol of Republican policies they consider harsh. These include efforts to pare taxes for the rich, reshape Medicare, the government health care system for the elderly into a voucher-like program, and squeeze savings from Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.