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A large majority of the House Freedom Caucus threw its support behind Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to be the next House speaker Wednesday — not enough of them to win the influential conservative faction's endorsement, but enough for him to declare that Republicans are unified.
Ryan, 45, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the Republicans' 2012 vice presidential nominee, set several conditions when he said Tuesday that he would seek to succeed John Boehner of Ohio as speaker — among them that all of the rival splinter groups in the notoriously divided Republican caucus fall in line behind him.
About 70 percent of the Freedom Caucus' three dozen or so members — there is no official list — voted to support Ryan at a meeting Wednesday evening. He needed 80 percent to win the group's formal endorsement.
One member told NBC News on Wednesday that it was up to Ryan to decide whether he can live with that.
Seems he can.
"I'm grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus," Ryan said after the vote. "I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team."
A high-placed Republican leadership source told NBC News that Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California convinced Ryan that he should move forward even without the formal endorsement from the Freedom Caucus.
Ryan had some doubts and was leaning toward insisting on a full endorsement, the source said, but Boehner told him the stakes were too high — and the margin between full endorsement and majority support was too low — to walk away.
Nevertheless, several members of the caucus — which did vote to endorse Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida earlier this month — told NBC News that they remain skeptical of some of Ryan's other demands, particularly that the House reform the procedural rule under which Boehner's position was attacked, known as a "motion to vacate the chair."
"No matter who is speaker, they cannot be successful with this weapon pointed at them all the time," Ryan's spokesman, Brendan Buck, said Tuesday.
Some Freedom Caucus members said that demand was unsettling, telling NBC News they believed it was firmly rooted in the Constitution.
In a statement, the caucus said it "no consensus exists among members" about Ryan's conditions for serving, but "we believe that these issues can be resolved within our conference in due time."
One member told NBC News that it was up to Ryan to decide whether he could live with that.
Earlier in the day, Boehner — who frequently clashed with the Freedom Caucus and leaves office at the end of the month — strongly backed Ryan, saying at his weekly news conference: "Paul Ryan would make a great speaker."
"He's a very good member," Boehner said. "He works hard. He is very bright and has a good relationship with all wings of the party."
The vote to elect the next speaker is scheduled for Oct. 29.