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By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — After repeatedly insisting that he had no interest in becoming speaker of the House, Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan was seriously considering the job Friday.

He had little choice. The wonkish Wisconsin congressman and former vice presidential nominee is seen as the GOP’s best hope to calm the chaos in the GOP-controlled House after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., abruptly pulled out of the race to replace retiring Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, amid a conservative backlash.

As House Republicans met privately Friday in the Capitol basement to assess the fallout, the hard sell to recruit Ryan spilled into open pleadings that he run. Some even suggested he should simply be made speaker without a vote — by acclamation.

“Paul’s looking at it, but it’s his decision,” McCarthy said after the session. “If he decides to do it, he’d be an amazing speaker.” But McCarthy, who was considered next in line for the post, also offered a caution: “It’s a big job.”

It’s not hard to understand Ryan’s hesitation. Taking over the gavel could be a political loser for Ryan, who would inherit the same dysfunction fueled by a rebellious conservative minority that forced Boehner to announce his early retirement just two weeks ago and then doomed McCarthy’s bid to replace him.

Behind the usual protestations against spending time away from his family and three small children, Ryan’s reluctance is rooted in a more realistic calculation of the political damage the speaker’s job could do to his promising career.

Now in his ninth term in office, Ryan is often mentioned as presidential material, even though he passed on the 2016 campaign to remain at his perch as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He is thought of as one of the GOP’s brightest thinkers and the economic guru who crafted the “Ryan Budget” that would turn Medicare into a voucher system to deeply cut costs.

At the same time, Ryan has enjoyed unusual popularity among Republicans without the messy challenges of leadership or the time-consuming job of fundraising. Among other duties, the modern speaker must spend much of his or her time traveling the country to raise money for the party’s candidates.

But Ryan’s conservative credentials have not been fully tested in the day-to-day wrangling required of a leader, and a bruising turn as speaker risks dimming his star-power. Outside conservative groups have already begun to attack.

“I know Paul’s getting a lot of pressure today,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. “I don’t care who the speaker is, he’s going to have the same battles.”

Ryan did not address the closed-door session Friday, but Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, a committee chairman, said he thought Ryan would agree to run.

“We’re going to need a leader who can bring all these factions together instead of being at war with each other, and that’s very difficult to do,” McCaul said. “I think he’s leaning toward it. I know the speaker’s been putting a lot of pressure on him. I know various members of the conference and chairman — they want him to get in.”

Ryan’s former 2012 running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has also called to encourage the congressman to take the post.

Ryan once aligned himself with a new generation of Republicans. “Young Guns” was a political manifesto he wrote with McCarthy and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor just five years ago.

But the Young Gun era has already been pushed aside by an even fresher group of hard-line conservatives that has thrown the party into disarray. Virginia’s Cantor was the first to fall, toppled in a surprise 2014 primary loss to a tea party newcomer, Rep. David Brat, who is now part of the influential House Freedom Caucus. With an estimated 40 members, the caucus is hoping to play a key role in selecting the next speaker, and many members do not see Ryan in same gauzy light as their colleagues.

“Everyone’s waiting to see what Paul does,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who led the fight against Boehner. Some predicted Ryan would not necessarily glide into the job and could face resistance if he declined to endorse the kinds of procedural changes backed by the caucus.

But demands or dissent from the conservatives will almost certainly push Ryan away from a run. In fact, the congressman is not expected to campaign for the job at all.

On Friday, he began his day like most others — waking up in the office where he sleeps while in Washington, then hitting the gym for a workout before settling in for eggs and sausage at the closed-door meeting.

For the budget wonk who finally has the chairmanship he set his sights on almost since arriving in Congress 17 years ago, he is hesitant to give up the job he always wanted for one he doesn’t.

Some supporters predict he would only take the speaker’s gavel if he had the full support of the House GOP, and such unity is a tall order.

As lawmakers adjourned for a week’s recess, at least a dozen other Republicans have emerged as possible candidates, but none have broad appeal among the severely divided majority. Those being considered, or hoping to be, reflect the vast differences within the House GOP majority.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who made a last-minute play to run as an alternative to McCarthy, said Friday he would not run against Ryan. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, a member of the Freedom Caucus, is also running.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the hard-charging former chairman of the House Oversight Committee, tossed his name forward, but then immediately said he would instead back Ryan.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who rebuffed Boehner’s earlier calls to run for majority leader, could still emerge, as could a hard-right conservative candidate.

In the meantime, Boehner’s scheduled Oct. 30 departure could be delayed. He has vowed to stay on until a new leader is chosen, which he predicted would take place by the end of the month.

“Time for us to take the walls down, open up our ears and listen to each other,” Boehner told lawmakers Friday, according to a person in the room. “But while we go through this process, we’ve got to continue to address the people’s priorities. This institution cannot grind to a halt.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) gestures at a news conference on “Taxpayers Protection Alliance on Trade Promotion Authority” on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.