WASHINGTON – Paul D. Ryan said he plans to remain speaker of the House through the end of the year when he plans to retire and indicated he will eventually endorse someone to succeed him.
"I have great confidence in this leadership team. That's one thing that I'm really proud of," Ryan said when asked who he thought should be the next speaker.
"I have more thoughts on this," Ryan added. "I think this is probably not the right time to get into that, but I'll – and I'll share those thoughts later. That election is in November, so it's not something we have to sweat right now."
Leading candidates for speaker are expected to be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 and No. 3 in GOP leadership ranks, respectively.
Scalise has reportedly said he would not run against McCarthy, whose path to the speakership is not certain given his inability in 2015 after the resignation of former Speaker John A. Boehner to secure the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker on the floor. Ryan became the consensus candidate, despite initially declining to run.
Other high profile Republicans could seek to run for speaker or lower level leadership positions that would open up if McCarthy or Scalise were to ascend. Republican Conference Vice Chairman Doug Collins of Georgia, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas all declined to say whether they'd be interested in doing so.
Ryan's decision to stay on as a lame duck speaker has not happened in three decades. In recent years, particularly among Republicans, congressional leaders have resigned instead of riding out the remainder of their terms, as happened with former Speaker John A. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Speakers Dennis Hastert and Newt Gingrich.
"I know most speakers don't go out on their own terms," he said. But he cited former Speaker Tip O'Neill, who announced his retirement before the 1986 elections but stuck around until the end of his term, and former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who announced his retirement before the 2016 elections and did the same as O'Neill.
Ryan acknowledged that waiting to announce his exit until after the November midterm elections is what he was supposed to do politically. He said he considered it but decided that he couldn't in good conscience go out that way because it wouldn't be fair to his constituents in Wisconsin.
"For me to ask them to vote to re-elect me knowing I wasn't going to stay is simply not being honest," he said.
A lame duck speaker might not be ideal for the Republican Party in terms of fundraising and power to get things done, but Ryan downplayed his retirement's impact on the broader midterm election landscape.
"I really don't think a person's race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan's speaker or not," he said.
Ryan was smiling as he walked up to the podium in the House studio to announce his plans to reporters. He reminded the press corps that he did not seek to be speaker and that he took the job "reluctantly."
Nonetheless, Ryan said, "This has been one of the two greatest honors of my life."
The other, he said is his role as a husband and a dad. He said he's retiring to spend more time with his family, noting his kids weren't even born when he was first elected to the House in 1998.
"If I'm here for one more term my kids will only ever have known me as a weekend dad," he said. "I just can't let that happen."