GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Paul Ryan says Biden likely won't get Democratic nomination Judd Gregg: Honey, I Shrunk The Party MORE (R-Wis.) appears to be losing his grip on power over a restive House Republican conference just a month after announcing he would retire from Congress.

Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus teamed with moderate Republicans on Friday to sink the farm bill, a major legislative priority and legacy item for the lame-duck Speaker.

In a related development, a band of 20 centrist Republicans are revolting against Ryan, circumventing leadership by using a rare procedural tactic to force a series of immigration votes.

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Ryan reinstated Father Patrick Conroy as the House chaplain last month after Catholic Republicans and Democrats publicly ripped his decision to force the chaplain to step down.

The outgoing Speaker had hoped to use his final months in office raising money for his party and campaigning to defend the House majority in a critical midterm election year.

Instead, he’s facing increasing intraparty divisions on several fronts largely due to a power vacuum he created once he publicly announced his retirement on April 11, according to several Hill GOP sources.

“It’s difficult to close deals when you are a Speaker who’s announced you are leaving in a few months,” a senior GOP source said Friday after the farm bill went down. “If you have somebody who’s going to be stepping down eight months in advance, a lot of people are not going to care what you have to say.”

Added a GOP lawmaker: “The shelf life of a former anything in Congress, including Speaker, is about 30 minutes. That could not be refuted with a thousand examples — it’s just the way it is.”

GOP leadership aides dismissed the criticism about Ryan, calling it a “lazy narrative that doesn’t reflect the mood of the conference.”

Aides argued that the Freedom Caucus has always clashed with the occupant of the Speaker’s office, and that the immigration fight has been playing out long before Ryan announced he was retiring from Congress.

“Members have always and continue to respect Paul Ryan for the leader he is, not the office he holds,” said Ryan spokesman Doug Andres. “This conference has always had its ups and downs, and the Speaker will continue to move us forward as a team.”

But in an embarrassing defeat for Ryan’s welfare reform agenda, conservative and moderate Republicans torpedoed a GOP farm bill on Friday despite a frantic, last-minute effort to push the bill across the finish line.

Ryan and his team held a flurry of meetings on Thursday night with conservative holdouts who were seeking a separate vote on a hard-line immigration bill authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.). Leadership offered Freedom Caucus members a vote on the measure in June — a deal the group ended up rejecting because they wanted a stronger commitment.  

Allies of Ryan vehemently dismissed the notion that the Speaker’s power has waned since his retirement announcement.

They placed the blame for the farm bill failure on the antics of the Freedom Caucus, who have long given Ryan and before him, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE (R-Ohio) headaches.

Asked if Ryan’s power was waning, Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloFormer GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Lobbying world MORE (R-Pa.) replied: “I don’t think he’s lost an ounce of anything.

“The Freedom Caucus wanted to try to create last-minute leverages after a major bill went through regular order,” Costello explained. “A lot of members probably credit leadership for not succumbing to the threat. I know I do.”

“The Freedom Caucus was against welfare reform. They were against a path to try to get people to go to work. They’re against farmers too,” added a frustrated Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresDemocrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don't add ethanol The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising The Hill's Morning Report — Trump broadens call for Biden probes MORE (R-Texas), the former chairman of the other conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee.

But the farm bill headaches were partly of Ryan’s own making.

Leadership had little room for error after they decided to forge ahead with a partisan farm bill that included tougher work requirements for millions of food stamp, or Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients — a legacy item for Ryan, a former Budget Committee chairman, as he seeks to fulfill the final piece of his “Better Way” agenda before he leaves Congress.

The decision to include stricter requirements, however, not only repelled the entire Democratic conference, but also centrist Republicans: about one-third of the 30 GOP dissenters on the farm bill were moderates like Reps. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE, Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondo Democratic challenger on Van Drew's party switch: 'He betrayed our community' Trump announces Van Drew will become a Republican in Oval Office meeting Van Drew, set to switch parties, will vote as a Democrat on impeachment MORE and Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE, all New Jersey Republicans.

“I didn’t like the SNAP provisions,” Lance, who is facing a tough reelection bid, told The Hill.

When the moderates peeled off, that made the support of the Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, all the more critical.

“It's a big victory for Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBloomberg faces criticism for tweet showing altered debate moment Trump knocks Democrats at rally: Bloomberg 'getting pounded' Biden earns endorsement from former House impeachment manager MORE and her allies,” Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers House passes stopgap as spending talks stall MORE (R-Fla.) said after the measure went down in dramatic fashion. “We'll see what happens next week."

The failure of the farm bill also further complicates the immigration conundrum facing Ryan and his leadership team.

Some leadership allies predicted more Republicans would now likely join the 20 GOP colleagues who have rebelled against leadership by signing the so-called discharge petition to force immigration votes. More Republicans will sign the petition, allies said, because they’re frustrated with the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus  dictating the terms of a future immigration vote.  

Ryan this week called the discharge petition “a big mistake” — one that would effectively cede control of the House floor to Democrats on a critical, election-year issue.

“Obviously, we do not agree with discharge petitions,” Ryan told reporters this week. “We think they’re a big mistake. They dis-unify our majority.”

But Republicans continued to sign the petition this week, even after GOP leadership warned them not to and promised that an immigration bill would be forthcoming.

Along with the 20 Republicans, 176 Democrats have signed the petition. If discharge proponents can secure 218 signatures, it will trigger debate and votes on four immigration bills, including a bipartisan bill by Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Trump to attend California fundraiser with Oracle chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Nearing witness vote, GOP rushes to acquit Trump MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Roger Stone gets over three years in prison; Brutal night for Bloomberg Three members of Congress endorse Bloomberg after raucous debate DCCC unveils initial dozen candidates for 'Red to Blue' program MORE (D-Calif.) that would offer a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Republican leaders have been meeting all week with both sides of the debate to hash out an agreement on the hot-button issue. But if a deal remains elusive and the discharge petition succeeds, the Speaker’s headaches could multiply.

“The unfortunate thing is by this [farm-bill] show today, it gives more leverage on the discharge petition, which I think is highly destructive,” said Rep. Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryFed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Fed chairman warns of economic damage from coronavirus House passes legislation to overhaul consumer credit reporting MORE (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip and a member of Ryan’s leadership team.

The immigration drama comes on the heels of a major unforced error by Ryan. Days after announcing his own retirement last month, the Speaker ordered the House chaplain to resign.

The backlash was fierce and bipartisan. Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesExperts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge Stacey Abrams group files emergency motion to stop Georgia voting roll purge MORE (N.C.) was the leading Republican on a letter to demand more answers from Ryan about Conroy’s dismissal. Two other Republicans sided with a failed Democratic effort to set up a special panel to investigate the episode.

Ryan defended the controversial move but eventually reversed course, reinstating Conroy after an entire week of negative headlines.

Some lawmakers said the bumpy past few weeks for the Speaker are just part of the job, and not necessarily a reflection of his lame-duck status.

“It’s a bad job,” quipped one GOP lawmaker sympathetic toward Ryan.

“Some days, this job has waves,” said Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Billboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Trump's defenders are running out of options MORE (R-Nev.), who signed the discharge petition. “When you’re sailing a ship across the ocean, you usually don’t get calm seas all the way from Ireland to New York.”

But, he added, “it’s fair to judge people on how you deal with the storms.”

Peter Sullivan, Juliegrace Brufke and Mike Lillis contributed.