With Rep. Paul Ryan yet to announce a bid for House speaker, and facing the possibility of a drawn-out, bruising free-for-all, conservative activists and some lawmakers are floating Rep. Marsha Blackburn as a possible unity candidate.
The Tennessee Republican, now in her seventh term, said she’d defer to Mr. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who’s viewed by most of the House GOP as the best choice. But her name has popped up on the list of potential recruits.
“Several new candidates are emerging, and Marsha Blackburn is one,” FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said. “I urged her to consider the speakership, and I think she will.”
Ms. Blackburn, in a phone interview this weekend, didn’t rule out a bid.
“I don’t know. I’d love for Paul Ryan to tell us all he is going to take it,” she said.
“There seems total agreement on him, and much of it depends on [the] decision he and Janna make,” Ms. Blackburn said, referring to the congressman’s wife, Janna Ryan, 43. The Ryans have three young children at home in Wisconsin.
The speakership is coming open with the retirement of incumbent Speaker John A. Boehner, who announced late last month he would cede Congress’s top constitutional post at the end of October amid acrimonious bickering over the direction of the House GOP. Some lawmakers want to see their leaders take on fights to pass legislation even if it’s clear President Obama will veto it, while others say that’s futile and want to see compromises that could earn approval from the White House.
Mr. Boehner’s top lieutenant, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, withdrew from consideration last week, and all attention immediately shifted to Mr. Ryan, Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee.
But conservative activists aren’t as enthusiastic about Mr. Ryan as his colleagues on Capitol Hill are, and the search for a Plan B is well underway.
Also, Mr. Ryan, 45, is being advised by some Republicans outside Congress that taking the speakership would all but rule out a bid down the road for the presidency.
The two announced candidates, Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida, have not managed to solidify support, nor have conservative heartthrobs Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the 36-member Freedom Caucus within the 247-member House GOP Conference, or Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, chairman of the 35-member Liberty Caucus.
Ms. Blackburn is far from the first choice among middle-roaders and hard-liners in the GOP House, but her name does resonate among several factions.
“Last year she led the fight against amnesty in the House, as well as sponsored legislation known as the CLEAR Act that gives law enforcement the tools they need to assist the federal government in deporting criminal illegal immigrants from our country,” said Rep. Steven M. Palazzo of Mississippi in endorsing Ms. Blackburn for speaker. “I went down the list” of the Republicans in the House and “one name came up again and again” — hers, he said.
Young America’s Foundation President Ron Robinson told The Washington Times he has “been very impressed with Marsha Blackburn. She would be an excellent choice for speaker.”
American Conservative President Dan Schneider stopped short of endorsing Ms. Blackburn but said that the “next speaker needs to be someone able to communicate effectively to Middle America and to conservatives as to why conservative ideas serve America best.”
“Marsha Blackburn has been highly effective at doing just that,” Mr. Schneider said in an interview.
Mr. Robinson said he also thinks Rep. Jim Jordan “would be a great choice.”
Mr. Brandon said he also encouraged Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland of Georgia “to put their hats in the ring.”
Ms. Blackburn is described by colleagues as poised and well-turned-out, and in her frequent appearances on left- and right-tilting networks can be counted on not to step on her tongue. She’s also amassed an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 96 — a straight A.
Republicans also would get their first female House speaker, which could make her a powerful surrogate in the 2016 presidential campaign.