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

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill following meetings with House Republican leaders and the Freedom Caucus members. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill following meetings with House Republican leaders and the Freedom Caucus members. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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.”

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