Washington, Apr 14 (AP) House Speaker Paul Ryan has endorsed his top lieutenant, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, to be his successor, giving a significant boost to the Californian’s candidacy in hopes of averting a divisive contest that could make an already difficult election year even tougher for divided Republicans.

“We all think that Kevin is the right person,” Ryan, R-Wis., said in an interview that will air on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Ryan said that while he believes McCarthy can line up enough votes now to win the job, he doesn’t want a campaign for the party’s top job to sidetrack GOP lawmakers at a crucial time. Ryan has said he will serve as speaker through the year, though some in the party want him to leave earlier.

“All these other things would be needless distractions from the task at hand” of pushing GOP legislation and “fighting for our majority,” Ryan said.

McCarthy, the House majority leader, is viewed as contending for Ryan’s job with No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Republicans are facing a difficult election season in which President Donald Trump’s unpopularity and a wave of Democratic enthusiasm are expected to cost the GOP many House seats. Should the party lose its majority, the top Republican would be minority leader, not speaker.

The White House declined to weigh in today on whom the president preferred for speaker.

“The president has a great relationship with Kevin McCarthy, but in terms of an announcement about who he wants to see as the next speaker, I don’t have any announcements on that front,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing.

Scalise has said he wouldn’t run against McCarthy, a longtime friend.

But Scalise hasn’t ruled out seeking the job if McCarthy fails to nail down the 218 votes that will be needed to elect a speaker when the new Congress convenes in January. McCarthy failed to win enough support when he tried replacing John Boehner as House speaker in 2015, and many wonder if continued skepticism by conservatives may yet again deny him the post.

In a signal of continued conservative disgruntlement, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said today he’s “open to running” for the top job. Jordan is a leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. His candidacy seems certain to fall short and is viewed as a bid to make conservatives the kingmakers in the race, perhaps in exchange for other leadership posts and committee assignments.

Ryan abruptly announced his retirement on Wednesday.

Republicans have been left reeling not just over who will replace him but also over whether Ryan’s lame-duck status will jeopardize the GOP’s pitch to voters and donors. (AP) CK CK

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.