GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan
Speaker Paul Ryan (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.
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 Goodlatte (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 Boehner (R-Ohio) headaches.
Asked if Ryan’s power was waning, Rep. Ryan Costello (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 Flores (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 Lance, Frank LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen, 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 Pelosi and her allies,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (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 Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (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 McHenry (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 Jones (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 Amodei (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.
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