Freedom Caucus Gives Paul Ryan a Big Majority—but Not a Mandate

A “supermajority” of the conservative group’s members will support Ryan for speaker. It’s enough that he’ll move forward with his bid.

Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Oct. 21, 2015, 9:11 p.m.

Rep. Paul Ry­an made sig­ni­fic­ant in­roads with House con­ser­vat­ives after a day of meet­ings and as­sur­ances, yet that may still not be enough to garner the un­an­im­ous sup­port he de­mands as a con­di­tion to run­ning for speak­er.

At a private meet­ing Wed­nes­day even­ing, about two-thirds of the con­ser­vat­ive House Free­dom Caucus voted to sup­port Ry­an for speak­er. But the con­fer­ence fell short of the 80 per­cent ne­ces­sary to of­fi­cially en­dorse him. 

“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,” read a state­ment re­leased by the group Wed­nes­day even­ing. “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.”

Ry­an has said he will not run un­less all of the con­fer­ence’s most in­flu­en­tial caucuses en­dorse him. But after the meet­ing, he in­dic­ated he would move for­ward with his can­did­acy for the job.

“I’m grate­ful for the sup­port of a su­per­ma­jor­ity of the House Free­dom Caucus,” Ry­an said in a state­ment. “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.”

Al­though Free­dom Caucus Chair­man Jim Jordan and oth­ers such as Reps. Marlin Stutz­man and Mark San­ford have been try­ing to con­vince their col­leagues to sup­port Ry­an, the group still has sev­er­al hol­d­outs who con­tin­ue to back Rep. Daniel Web­ster. Fel­low Flor­idi­ans Reps. Curt Clawson and Bill Po­sey, for in­stance, do not want to turn their backs on their home-state mem­ber, who the Free­dom Caucus already en­dorsed. Oth­ers, such as Reps. Tim Huel­skamp and Paul Gos­ar, be­lieve that Web­ster gives the con­fer­ence’s their best chance at upend­ing what they see at a top-heavy power struc­ture, ac­cord­ing to mem­bers in the meet­ing.

That comes des­pite as­sur­ances Ry­an made at a private con­fab with the Free­dom Caucus just be­fore the group met to vote. Ry­an said he would sup­port a rules-re­form pack­age that could in­clude changes to how com­mit­tee chair­men are chosen and how le­gis­la­tion comes to the floor. He also said he would not bring up a com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion bill, but would work to­ward a tax-re­form pack­age as well as a re­place­ment for Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law.

Still, Ry­an has made ex­pli­citly clear he will not serve in a di­vided House. “I don’t mean to be egot­ist­ic­al,” Ry­an told the con­fer­ence at the meet­ing, ex­plain­ing that for him to give up his dream job as Ways and Means chair­man for a speak­er­ship he does not want, he would need to do so on his terms. Those in­clude un­an­im­ous sup­port, buy-in to his policy ideas from the con­fer­ence, a prom­ise to not try to re­move him as speak­er, and ample free time to spend with his fam­ily.

Still, to some in the party, Ry­an’s de­mands came off as ar­rog­ant. One Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man said Demo­crats joked with him on the floor that they’ll con­duct their next cam­paign in the same way: As a con­di­tion to run­ning, they would de­mand a un­an­im­ous elec­tion from con­stitu­ents, fealty to their gov­ern­ing vis­ion, and the re­mov­al any chance of a re­call—“and oh, by the way, I don’t work week­ends,” he ad­ded.

Also at is­sue is Ry­an’s call to shelve the mo­tion to va­cate, which al­lows any mem­bers to force a vote to re­call the speak­er. Rep. Mark Mead­ows brought a mo­tion up earli­er this year and it is cred­ited with for­cing Speak­er John Boehner to resign. Ry­an told mem­bers that he does not want to gov­ern in an en­vir­on­ment where he could be over­thrown so eas­ily. But mem­bers do not feel com­fort­able scrub­bing the cen­tur­ies-old pro­ced­ure from the rule book.

As a com­prom­ise, Mead­ows said he could be amen­able to a prom­ise not to bring up such a mo­tion for a cer­tain time peri­od. “I’m will­ing to say that there would be no mo­tion that we brought up for a new speak­er for the rest of this Con­gress,” Mead­ows said. “To give this new speak­er, who­ever it may be, the rest of the 114th Con­gress, I think is a reas­on­able thing.”

Justin Amash, a Re­pub­lic­an from Michigan, said he per­son­ally en­dorsed Ry­an, but that did not mean that the Free­dom Caucus had settled on meet­ing Ry­an’s own de­mands.

“We have had a very ser­i­ous dis­cus­sion on Paul Ry­an. A su­per­ma­jor­ity of us sup­port his bid to be the next speak­er, and we hope that we can make him suc­cess­ful as speak­er,” Amash said. “There is no con­sensus from our mem­bers on any of his pre­con­di­tions.”

Free­dom Caucus Mem­bers said Ry­an’s pitch to them Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon had made a dif­fer­ence as it be­came clear Ry­an was on their side when it came to mak­ing the le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess more in­clus­ive. In the end, that pitch won over many.

“He out­lined things he would do dif­fer­ently than the cur­rent speak­er, Speak­er Boehner, and even ven­ted some of his frus­tra­tion,” Rep. John Flem­ing said, al­though he would not say wheth­er he was sup­port­ing Ry­an. “Amass­ing a lot of power and con­trol is prob­ably not his real in­terest and that is ac­tu­ally at­tract­ive to us be­cause we don’t want a hy­per-power­ful speak­er.”

Rep. Trent Franks, a Re­pub­lic­an from Ari­zona, said he’d known Ry­an for a long time and this close to a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, it was time for the Free­dom Caucus to rally around one lead­er.

“He’s a man of great cap­ab­il­ity,  and I think he un­der­stands the grav­ity of the next elec­tion and it is my be­lief that he has both the acu­men and the prin­ciples to help cre­ate and ar­tic­u­late a mes­sage that will help us pre­vail in the next pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.”

This art­icle has been up­dated.

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