WASHINGTON (AP) — Outgoing Speaker John Boehner bade farewell to his colleagues Thursday as the House commenced the political pageantry of electing Paul Ryan to replace him, with Republicans hoping the young but seasoned lawmaker can mend the splintered party’s self-inflicted wounds and craft a conservative message to woo voters in next year’s elections.
“I leave with no regrets, no burdens,” said Boehner, R-Ohio, who was hounded into retirement by hard-line conservatives who are mostly rallying behind Ryan, at least for now. “If anything, I leave the way I started, just a regular guy, humbled by the chance to do a big job.”
His 10-minute valedictory was not without his trademark tears: He earned a bipartisan standing ovation even before he started talking when he pulled out a box of tissues.
Boehner ticked off accomplishments during his five years of speaker that included deep spending savings and then lauded his successor.
“Paul is being called,” said Boehner. “I know he’ll serve with grace and with energy.”
Minutes earlier, Ryan’s longtime pastor sought divine guidance as the Wisconsin Republican prepared to step into one of Washington’s most taxing jobs.
“Give us the fortitude to endure when the demands of our office seem overwhelming,” beseeched Monsignor Donn Heiar of Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., in an opening prayer. “Bless us with prudence when all pathways seem troublesome.”
The House planned to elect the Wisconsin Republican to the post by having lawmakers vote aloud, one by one, in a tradition that bespeaks the dignity of a chamber that lately has been more rowdy than respectful.
With the GOP controlling 247 of the House’s 435 votes, Ryan’s election was assured, despite grumbling from conservatives demanding more say in how the chamber operates.
Ryan planned to ask both parties for a period of healing and to focus on working families, said an aide who described the remarks on condition of anonymity ahead of the lawmaker’s acceptance speech.
“If you have ideas, let’s hear them. A greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us,” Ryan planned to say, said the aide, in what seemed a bid for GOP reconciliation.
Watching from the visitor’s gallery were Ryan’s wife and three young children, other family members and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — who made Ryan his vice presidential running mate in an unsuccessful effort to defeat President Barack Obama.
Before the roll call, lawmakers were to hear farewell remarks from Boehner, the 25-year House veteran who stunningly announced his resignation last month after leading the House since 2011.
Ryan’s ascension was coming as Congress neared 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 Wednesday 266-167, with final Senate passage on track in a few days, despite opposition from conservatives including senators seeking the GOP presidential nomination.
House Republicans made Ryan their nominee for speaker in a secret ballot Wednesday that saw him defeat his only announced opponent, Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., by 200-43.
Though Ryan won less than the 218 votes needed to be elected by the full House, conservatives — including members of the rebellious House Freedom Caucus — said most would back him Thursday.
The budget vote underscored Ryan’s challenge in leading Republicans who often have scant interest in compromise, especially with a GOP 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 Boehner has been excessively powerful, forcing bills to the House floor without rank-and-filed input, dictating committee chairs and punishing rebels. One Freedom Caucus leader, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said conservatives expect 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,” Labrador said.
Boehner’s resignation prompted a month of GOP turbulence after the Freedom Caucus derailed the candidacy of the heir-apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Establishment Republicans pressured a reluctant Ryan to seek the speakership, viewing him as their best shot at patching the GOP’s ragged ruptures.
Amiable and just 45, Ryan has been in Congress 17 years and has strong ties with all wings of the GOP. Past chairman of the House Budget Committee and current head of the Ways and Means Committee, he has put his imprint on deficit reduction, tax, health and trade legislation — prime subjects that have raised his stature and put him at the center of many of Congress’ highest-profile debates.
Many Democrats like Ryan but none is hesitating to attack him as a symbol of Republican policies they consider harsh. These include efforts to reshape Medicare into a voucher-like program, squeeze savings from Medicaid and pare taxes for the rich.
“This presents the clearest distinction of anyone they could have named: the Ryan budget,” Pelosi told reporters.
Ryan will become the House’s 54th speaker, putting him second in line to succeed the president, and the youngest speaker since Rep. James Blaine, R-Maine, who was 39 when he took the job in 1869.