WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid signs of support from Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan moved Tuesday toward winning approval from House Republicans to keep his job in the coming Congress. House Democrats, jarred by their meager Election Day gains, seemed less certain about their direction and delayed a vote on whether to keep Rep. Nancy Pelosi as minority leader.
At a private meeting of House GOP lawmakers, Ryan, R-Wis., told them that in a morning conversation with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Pence said he and Trump “are very supportive of the leadership team and are looking forward to working with them,” according to Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
Lummis, a member of hard-right House Freedom Caucus and who’s retiring in January, called Ryan’s remarks “a validating moment.”
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., another member of the Freedom Caucus, said “Donald Trump controls whether Paul Ryan is the next speaker or not” and said “all the signals we have” are that the president-elect wants Ryan in the job.
Though Ryan has been expected to get a new term in the House’s top post, he’s encountered criticism — and possible opposition — from members of the Freedom Caucus who think he may not push a starkly conservative agenda aggressively enough.
He’s also been slammed by long-time Trump supporters upset that he refused to work for the president-elect during the campaign, and clashed frequently with him.
But in a sign of healing, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of Trump’s earliest congressional supporters, said he would second Ryan’s nomination to be speaker later Tuesday “as a sign of, if you will, Trump support for Mr. Ryan.”
On the Democratic side, House Democrats postponed leadership elections that had been scheduled for Thursday until Nov. 30 amid signs of dissatisfaction with their veteran leaders. Pelosi, D-Calif., and No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland have led House Democrats for over a decade and are both in their seventies.
After what was a disastrous Election Day for Democrats, the party was on track to gain just six House seats at a time when they were hoping for more.
More than two dozen House Democrats wrote Pelosi this week asking her to delay the elections. They wrote that it is “vital that our caucus take the time to listen to the American people and learn the lessons of this difficult election.”
House Democrats made the decision to postpone their elections at a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
Next year will be the first that the GOP will have unfettered White House and congressional control since 2006.
Even before Tuesday, lawmakers from across the party’s spectrum predicted Ryan would prevail. They said he’s been aided by Trump’s victory and the president-elect’s selection of Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, a Ryan friend from Wisconsin, as White House chief of staff.
But some opposition to Ryan remained.
“I’m not going to support anybody in leadership until they tell me how things are going to change the next two years,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said Monday. That tea party-oriented group helped push Speaker John Boehner into early retirement last year.
Labrador said he expected Ryan to win the majority of Republicans needed Tuesday to be nominated. He said “the rub comes” Jan. 3, when Ryan will need 218 votes — a majority of the full House — to be speaker and avoid a damaging setback to a career path that many think includes a presidential run.
With four races undecided, Republicans will likely have 241 seats next year. Democrats are certain to back their own leader, meaning no more than 23 Republicans could desert Ryan.
Republicans plan a 2017 agenda headlined by repealing and rewriting Obama’s health care law, cutting taxes and curbing federal regulations.
Before adjourning for the year, lawmakers who have failed to make a dent in the year’s spending legislation will have to find a way to approve something so federal agencies won’t shut down on Dec. 9. Leaders also want bills approved speeding government drug approval and financing water projects, including money to help Flint, Michigan, clean up its lead-poisoned water supply.
Senate Republicans and Democrats were meeting separately Wednesday to pick their leadership teams.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is keeping his job in a chamber that Republicans will control by 52-48. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is retiring after a 30-year Senate career and seems certain to be replaced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.