WASHINGTON — Before the race to succeed him even officially got underway, outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in an interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that will air Sunday.
"I think we all believe that Kevin is the right person," Ryan, who announced his retirement this week, told moderator Chuck Todd in an excerpt of the exclusive interview released Friday.
McCarthy is currently the Ryan's deputy as House majority leader. He had been expected to face a challenge from Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the majority whip, but Ryan suggested that Scalise would back McCarthy, echoing comments Scalise himself made Thursday.
"I really do envision a more seamless transition, versus say the time when I came in," Ryan said.
With Republicans gearing up for a tough midterm election this fall in which their majority is at stake, Ryan suggested he wanted to head off a potentially destructive internecine battle.
"I think what we want to do is focus on getting our jobs done, what we want to do is focus on executing our agenda, focus on fighting for our majority, and all these other things would be needless distractions from the task at hand," Ryan said.
Neither McCarthy nor Scalise have yet declared their intentions, though both men have been jockeying behind the scenes for the top spot in the House GOP conference.
It also remains to be seen whether Ryan will stay on as speaker for the rest of the year or step aside sooner to let Republicans pick a new leader before November. Either way, his endorsement is likely carry real sway with many rank-and-file lawmakers.
Ryan ascended to the speakership during a tumultuous moment for House Republicans and was seen as the only person who could get the necessary votes for the job. But he said a lot has changed since 2015.
"One of the reasons why I was comfortable making this decision, is because we have a very capable leadership team," Ryan said of decision not to run for re-election. "What’s changed is, we came together as a team."
Tune in on Sunday to "Meet the Press" for more of Todd's exclusive interview with Ryan.