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By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A reluctant U.S. Representative Paul Ryan on Tuesday laid out a series of conditions under which he would seek to become speaker of the House of Representatives, saying he will only serve if fractious Republicans unite behind him to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner.

Following a week of near-seclusion in his home state of Wisconsin during a congressional recess, Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate who is in his ninth term in the House, told his fellow Republicans that he might be willing to seek the top job.

Many Republicans, who have the majority in the House, have been urging Ryan to run. He said Tuesday he would do so only if he receives a clear message of support by the end of the week from all sides of the badly splintered House Republicans, including the endorsement of various groups.

“What I told the members is, if you can agree to these requests, and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve,” Ryan, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means committee, told reporters after the meeting with House Republicans.

“This is not a job I’ve ever wanted,” he said, but added that he had concluded the United States was in “desperate need of leadership.”

House Republicans have been in turmoil since Boehner announced last month he wanted to retire after years of battles with right-wingers in the party.

The same right wingers, many of them members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, then opposed Boehner’s expected successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who subsequently bowed out of the race.

Ryan, in an apparent reference to Boehner and McCarthy, told Republicans Tuesday that he did not want to be “the third log on the fire,” Representative Peter King told reporters.

But Ryan laid down conditions that could anger the conservatives. He said he wanted a House rules change that would remove the ability of any member of the chamber to seek a vote to eject the speaker.

Such a threat, coming from conservatives, was hanging over Boehner in the weeks before he announced his resignation, effective Oct. 30.

According to King, Ryan said: “I am willing to take arrows in the chest, but I won’t take them in the back”.

Before meeting with all House Republicans, Ryan met Tuesday with leaders of the Freedom Caucus. Afterwards, some of the conservative lawmakers described it as a positive session, but it was unclear what their next step would be. The group has already endorsed another candidate, conservative Daniel Webster.

Conservatives have sought changes in House rules in an effort to empower individual lawmakers. Ryan said Tuesday he agreed rule changes needed to be made, but that this must be done by consensus.

Ryan also said he wants to be freed from some of the time-consuming tasks that Boehner performed while speaker since January 2011. Boehner spent many weekends traveling the United States seeking campaign donations for fellow Republicans.

“I cannot and will not give up my family time” Ryan told reporters. He has three young children.

Boehner is expected to announce on Wednesday the date for Republicans to nominate their candidate for speaker. If Ryan decides at week’s end not to run for speaker, it is unclear who would emerge as a front-runner, adding to the chaos that has plagued Republicans over the past month.

But one already-announced candidate, Jason Chaffetz, withdrew from the race on Tuesday, saying he would support Ryan.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Sandra Maler, Leslie Adler and Bernard Orr)

Photo: U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) gestures as he walks on Capitol Hill in Washington October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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