House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday that his fellow House Republicans understand that ousting him now would be a major distraction from the GOP’s agenda, as he sought to quell another conservative rebellion.
Mr. Ryan acknowledged the House Republican Conference is fraught with tension, as moderates push citizenship rights for illegal immigrants and conservatives retaliate by blocking passage last week of the massive farm bill.
But the Wisconsin Republican said those fractures are to be expected for a majority party in the House, and he said they are accomplishing many other major priorities this week, such as prison reform, permission for terminally ill to use experimental treatments, changes to rules governing Wall Street, and working on the annual defense policy bill.
“I serve at the pleasure of the members,” Mr. Ryan said. “Those are the people who drafted me into this job in the first place. But I think we all agree the best thing for us is to complete our agenda and to not wedge into the middle of the completion of our agenda a divisive leadership election.”
He has announced his retirement at the end of this year, but is remaining as speaker until then. Some critics have said his lame-duck status has made him ineffective at a time when the GOP needs a firm hand to navigate thorny issues such as the immigration debate.
Last week’s farm bill failure was a final straw for many of those critics, after conservatives, disappointed that Mr. Ryan and his team wouldn’t schedule a vote on an enforcement-heavy immigration bill, joined with Democrats to defeat the agriculture policy legislation.
Mr. Ryan and his top lieutenant and likely speaker replacement, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said the farm bill will eventually pass. They said last week’s failure was due to Democrats voting in unison against it, objecting to requirements that would push more people on food stamps to look for work.
Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. McCarthy disputed a report in the Weekly Standard over the weekend that said the White House and top congressional Republicans are trying to oust Mr. Ryan.
“I read that report. That report is not true,” Mr. McCarthy said.
While some outside groups have agitated for Mr. Ryan to be dumped now, and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have kicked the idea around, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of support for it.
“I think it’s premature to have a race,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, Ohio Republican, at a “Conversations with Conservatives” event.
He said one reason to wait is to see whether the GOP keeps the majority. He said the job description between being a speaker and being a minority leader is different enough that Republicans should see which one they’re looking for at the end of this year.
“If we are advancing our agenda between now and November I think we’re going to have a speaker’s race, not a minority leader’s race,” Mr. Davidson said.