Paul Ryan bids to keep Speaker’s gavel as Republican race starts to heat up

By Jordan Press, CNN Justice Correspondent

Paul Ryan has launched his bid to keep the Speaker’s gavel, and his likely election by the Republican conference Saturday is sparking a race among candidates for second in line to the post, according to a senior Republican.

As he launched his campaign Saturday evening, Ryan told reporters that “there are people who would like to see this job in different circumstances.” He then quickly added, “We have a good conference and a good group of folks that are working through this.”

One insider has told CNN that Ryan had started to weed through potential candidates to take his place, a process accelerated by his decision to step down after January 2019. That move has encouraged other, younger lawmakers in the conference to step forward, according to another Republican familiar with the election.

“We are prepared to have people step forward in any number of combinations, just to make sure we have a good, thoughtful, competitive Speaker’s race,” the Republican said.

If Ryan vacates the Speaker’s gavel, Rep. Kevin McCarthy would be the House Republican Conference’s designated successor. McCarthy, the California Republican who’s served as the Majority Leader since 2015, had been considered the heavy favorite for speaker before Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory in 2016, in which McCarthy failed to earn the GOP presidential nomination.

Trump has made it clear that he wants McCarthy to succeed Ryan, telling the Washington Post earlier this month that “I really like Kevin McCarthy. … I think Kevin would be terrific. He really likes me. He’s a real friend of mine.”

The speculation about McCarthy’s likely ascension comes as the possibility of impeachment proceedings against special counsel Robert Mueller loom, along with the ongoing investigation into possible connections between Trump associates and Russia.

The Justice Department on Friday reportedly issued a “draft” proposal to Congress for a policy to protect Mueller, although CNN and other news outlets have reported in recent weeks that the department has been writing such a policy since at least the spring of 2017.

Also on Friday, CNN reported that a senior White House official said that as Mueller’s investigation continues and Trump has accused the Justice Department and FBI of showing bias against him, he could consider taking steps to end the Mueller probe. It wasn’t clear what steps Trump could take, but it marked a potential increase in the president’s tough rhetoric.

House Republicans are also bracing for Mueller’s report, which is due to Congress by the end of March.

“I don’t know how soon a report might be, but at some point we will have a report,” the Republican said, as well as a classified briefing on the matter. “All of these things put together, you begin to see people begin to sort of think about their own prospects.”

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