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Politics & Government

Paul Ryan Is The Best Person To Run For House Speaker, Rep. Cole Says

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

On this Friday, the House of Representatives has no new leader in sight. This time last week, House Republicans were reeling from the announcement by front-runner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he was suddenly dropping out of the race to succeed speaker John Boehner, whose earlier decision to quit was equally shocking. The congressman many are pinning their hopes on now is Paul Ryan, who doesn't want to be speaker. There are others interested in the job. The question is, can any of them bring together a group seemingly at war with itself? For some insight, we reached a top Republican in the House, Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Good morning.

TOM COLE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have spoken out in favor of Paul Ryan taking the speakership position. What for you makes him the best man for the job?

COLE: Well, first of all, I think he has genuine national stature, the fact that he's been a vice presidential nominee, the fact that he's frankly been probably the intellectual leader of the Republican Party for close to a decade, and he's really changed the way we think about and approach fiscal issues. Second, he's chaired two committees. Finally, he's a person of absolute personal integrity. He's well liked. He's respected on both sides of the aisle.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like the big issue here then is Paul Ryan himself, who has said he is not running and will not run for speaker of the house. I mean, he's basically, though, indicated that he might take the job if it was by a claim - it sounds to me like if he was drafted.

COLE: Well, you know, I wouldn't blame him for having that stance. This is not a job he sought. This is a position that sought him, in my opinion. But at the end of the day, he's still just quite simply the best person that we have and the one that's most likely to attract the broadest support. Now, if Paul chose not to run, there's certainly other people that can do the job. And there would be a pretty vigorous competition. There's a lot of names floating. And you also have to remember that John Boehner remains speaker until a new speaker's chosen. I find part of the irony here is that some of the people that are critical of Paul detest John Boehner. And yet, by attacking Paul Ryan, they probably keep John Boehner in office longer. So that to me seems irrational.

MONTAGNE: At least from your point of view, if Paul Ryan cannot be persuaded to run, then you're saying it may just be that John Boehner stays on?

COLE: It's certainly a possibility. Now, it's not something that Speaker Boehner wants to do. And frankly, it's not something he should have to do. To me, this is very easily solved. Whoever can get 50 percent plus one of the conference vote ought to get the vote of the full conference when we actually vote for speaker on the floor. But if we don't come to that point that somebody can get 218 on the floor because one group or another is dissatisfied, John Boehner does indeed remain speaker.

MONTAGNE: Well, just one last question. John Boehner has called Congress the greatest legislative body in the world. But right now, from the outside, it looks a little - a little chaotic, at least on the Republican side. Or at least it feels like freestyle (laughter).

COLE: (Laughter).

MONTAGNE: Does it feel like that to you?

COLE: I think it does. Although, you know, you go through these chaotic periods of time in legislative bodies. And sometimes, they work out well. I think this is not just chaotic; it may be cathartic. For instance, we're going to have a brand-new person at the leadership table. That's something that the Freedom Caucus has wanted for a long time. And it's going to be at the most important position, at the speaker's chair. And I think change is coming. And we're having a pretty vigorous discussion internally about rules. But having that kind of discussion's important. You know, while you're doing it, you've still got to function legislatively. And we've got a debt ceiling coming up on November 5. And we have a sequester deadline on January 1 that would absolutely devastate the American military, cut $40 billion. Those things have to be dealt with. So you'd like to have a leadership that's stable as you're going through that process.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

COLE: Hey, thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Oklahoma Congressman Republican Tom Cole. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.