Tonight, the House Freedom Caucus put out a statement summarizing the result of their meeting with potential new speaker Paul Ryan…
“A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan’s bid to become the next Speaker of the House. Paul is a policy entrepreneur who has developed conservative reforms dealing with a wide variety of subjects, and he has promised to be an ideas-focused Speaker who will advance limited government principles and devolve power to the membership. While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan’s preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our Conference in due time. We all know that Washington needs to change the way it does business, and we look forward to working with Paul and all our colleagues to enact process reforms that empower individual representatives and restore respect to our institution.”
This sounds like a rather lukewarm concession. But it isn’t, and it’s actually a very intelligent and crafty move.
The Freedom Caucus is giving Ryan the votes he needs to become Speaker if he wants to be, and it is not standing in the way of being Speaker. It cannot be blamed for torching his bid for the job – which he has leveraged to the hilt on the basis that he does not want it unless a raft of hard-to-swallow conditions are met. Those are, as Ryan said in his speech to the caucus…
“First, we need to move from being an opposition party to a proposition party. Because we think the nation is on the wrong path, we have a duty to show the right one. Our next speaker needs to be a visionary one.
“Second, we need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative. This is, after all, the people’s house. But we need to do it as a team. And it needs to include fixes that ensure we don’t experience constant leadership challenges and crisis.
“Third, we, as a conference, should unify now, and not after a divisive speaker election.
“The last one is personal. I cannot and will not give up my family time. I may not be able to be on the road as much as previous speakers, but I pledged to make up for it with more time communicating our message.
Ryan also apparently wants an end to the House’s ability to remove a Speaker via a motion to vacate the chair, which is a device invented by Thomas Jefferson 217 years ago.
What the Freedom Caucus has done is to give Ryan the votes he needs to get to 218 and assume the Speaker’s chair.
But they have not agreed to his conditions.
This is the best of both worlds. Paul Ryan can move to the Speaker’s chair and the House Freedom Caucus held its ground against a coordinated campaign to box them into an untenable position with an endorsement.
I hope the House conservatives pay attention to this. They stayed united, they did not give Ryan an endorsement, but two-thirds of their members were willing to go along with Paul Ryan as Speaker while rejecting Ryan’s preconditions.
The ball is now in Paul Ryan’s court and the onus on Paul Ryan. That is what needed to happen.
If Paul Ryan refuses after two-thirds of the House Freedom Caucus were willing to support his Speakership, it is not the conservatives who are unreasonable. It’s the man who refused to compromise on his demands. At least that’s what the establishment always tells us about conservatives unwilling to compromise.
Matthew Boyle at Breitbart has a bit more on the fascinating negotiations between Ryan and the Freedom Caucus…
Among the things that Ryan promised the members were a return to regular order, changes to the steering committee that decides committee assignments centralizing power in the Speaker’s office—Ryan even promised to give up the Speaker’s five votes on the committee—and an end to retaliation against Republican members who vote their conscience.
He reiterated his promise made in the full GOP conference on Tuesday of no amnesty bill under President Obama—which conspicuously did not extend to the next president—and an end to crisis-to-crisis governance under outgoing Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). He also promised more “regional representation” rather than representation centralized in the Speaker’s office.
There were only two catches to Ryan’s litany of promises: first, those present couldn’t tell the public what just happened because, Ryan argued, it would infuriate the other side of the House GOP conference. And Ryan would get what he wanted with significant changes to a House rule that was put in place back in the early 1800s by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and the author of America’s Declaration of Independence from King George.
And it gets even more interesting from there…
So, heading into the meeting with Ryan—which began just after 4 p.m. on Wednesday—there was near-unanimous opposition to Ryan in the House Freedom Caucus. Like Breitbart News, Fox News’ Chad Pergram reported that it was “unlikely” that Ryan received the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus. Almost every member, save for a few like Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), opposed a Ryan Speakership—and they were agreeing to the meeting simply to be fair. But when Ryan made all these promises to them in there, many of the members believed him at face value.
Ryan’s spokesman Brendan Buck—a former Boehner staffer—hasn’t denied that Ryan made all of these promises, and several sources, including those in the meeting, have confirmed to Breitbart News that Ryan made them.
Key to understanding the gravity of this meeting is that Ryan made all these nice-sounding promises to the members on the condition that they surrendered the only two ways toenforce such promises: going public, or kicking him out of office down the road.
Several of the members worry that Ryan is untrustworthy and dishonest—given the misleading nature of the way he has sold Republicans in the past on Obamatrade, “doc fix,” the budget deal he cut with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), immigration, and many more issues. Thus, if he moves forward with a bid for the House Speakership after failing to receive the endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus–something he and his office said they would not do–even members in the Freedom Caucus who would have supported him will have reason to believe that Ryan is entirely untrustworthy and dishonest and withdraw their previous support for him.
These conservative lawmakers would, in that case, likely simply return to the position they held heading into the meeting with Ryan earlier in the day—where they were “hell no” against him, since the promises he made in the meeting mean nothing if the first move he makes toward the Speakership is breaking a promise he made to the GOP conference and to the public.
Boyle is of the opinion that Ryan rolled the Freedom Caucus; what’s not clear is whether that is in fact true. If the motion to vacate the chair survives, and the Freedom Caucus clearly isn’t on board with the demand to kill it (and the Democrats in the House are absolutely not going to give that up, because it’s a lever of power they, in concert with dissident Republicans, could use), then they’ve not given up anything where Ryan’s conditions are concerned even if he is getting the Speakership he says he doesn’t want.
And that’s where this thing gets most interesting. Ryan came into this situation saying that he didn’t want to be Speaker, and he came into the discussion of taking the job with a list of his own terms different than those of previous Speakers. But then he came to the Freedom Caucus with a proposal to meet many of their conditions, without which there was no particular reason to believe he’d get their votes. That looks like someone who’s campaigning for the job.
But Ryan had demanded a coronation and full acquiescence to his Speakership. He can’t be blamed for that; they came to him rather than the other way around, so his statements about being a “unifying figure” are more or less a demand to enter the job with the kind of political strength that imparts the power to implement the vision of being a “propositional” party rather than an opposition party. Whatever you believe about Ryan, that’s smart, and it’s not something that, per se, conservatives ought to oppose. Particularly not if he’s serious about giving the Freedom Caucus its wishes on how House process would work.
So the question is whether Ryan can be trusted. And the Freedom Caucus, which went into today not trusting him at all, decided to meet him halfway. They were willing to give him his votes, one assumes on the promise that regular order is returning, but not on his pre-conditions – chief among those being the dissolution of the motion to vacate the chair.
Now, as Erickson says, this ball is in Ryan’s court. He must decide whether half a loaf – and specifically, that he’s going to be held to his quiet promise to the Freedom Caucus to bring back regular order – is enough.
The suspicion here is Ryan is ultimately going to bail out of the arrangement since he legitimately doesn’t want the job. But in either event, the marker has been laid down – the Freedom Caucus’ support can be had, but only to candidates who demonstrate they’re worthy of it by agreeing to their demands for reform of how the House works. Which they’ve said is central – not who runs the House, but how.
The problem, of course, is that there are several horrendously difficult challenges awaiting the new Speaker – a potential shutdown fight over the budget, a debt ceiling increase, etc. – and the House could fight those fights like gladiators and still lose because of the suspect leadership in the Senate. Reforming the processes in the House won’t happen in time to affect that problem, and whoever the Speaker is has a good chance of being ruined before he can even begin.