Right blames Ryan for rebel’s loss

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Allies of the conservative Freedom Caucus rebel defeated in a Tuesday GOP primary are seeking revenge against Speaker Paul Ryan.

Conservatives say the Speaker didn’t do enough to help Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was defeated in the Kansas primary by Roger Marshall, a Chamber of Commerce-backed obstetrician.

{mosads}Now some conservatives are threatening to oppose the Wisconsin Republican when he runs for his first full term as Speaker after the Nov. 8 general election.

“Last night was a watershed evening: The establishment took out a sitting member of Congress and Paul Ryan became a lame duck Speaker,” said one conservative lawmaker, who backed Ryan for Speaker last fall but vows to vote against him next time.

Critics of Ryan argue that the Speaker could have saved Huelskamp — in part by promising to put him back on the Agriculture Committee.

Huelskamp, a frequent opponent of Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, was removed from the panel by the former Speaker for voting against his leadership on key votes. He ended up being defeated by an opponent backed by agricultural interests in Kansas who argued the three-term lawmaker’s outspokenness was costing his state.

The Chamber of Commerce, which is friendly to Ryan, backed Marshall hard, which is another sore spot for conservatives.

“There are several members who believe that Paul should have done more, could have done more, and will not condemn the actions of people he regularly solicits money from,” the conservative lawmaker said. “The only recourse would be to find a Speaker that is willing to do so.”

Freedom Caucus members urged Ryan to put out a statement before the Kansas primary saying that he personally wanted Huelskamp reinstated on the Agriculture Committee.

Instead, Ryan told Huelskamp’s hometown newspaper last month that Kansas should have representation on the panel and that Huelskamp, a fifth-generation farmer, “has the kind of background that could serve the state well on the Ag Committee.” The final decision, Ryan said, would be made by the Steering Committee, which determines who gets committee slots and gavels.

That fell short of the Freedom Caucus’s request.

Asked whether he himself blamed Ryan for his defeat, Huelskamp told reporters: “The loss has to do with $3 million in super PAC spending … coming in and trying to buy an election, that’s what they did, so Washington won.”

Ryan is expected to easily win the nomination to be Speaker for the 115th Congress when House Republicans privately gather in the Capitol in mid-November; he just needs a simple majority in his GOP conference to win the nomination. 

But he’ll need 218 votes — a majority of the entire House of Representatives — to be reelected on the House floor next January, a much tougher feat given that Democrats won’t cast their votes for the GOP leader.

Ryan’s handling of Huelskamp has caused enormous “frustration” among some members, said Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). 

“Everybody knows that if the Speaker would have said that Tim’s going back on the Agriculture Committee, it would have made a difference. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. But he wouldn’t do that, so of course that’s a problem,” Jordan said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

A member of Ryan’s small group of advisers, Jordan publicly backed the Wisconsin lawmaker for Speaker last fall. But he wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he’d withdraw his support for the January floor vote.

“Today we’re focused on the fact that a good member lost his race and he shouldn’t have, because he was there doing exactly what Republican voters wanted him to do,” Jordan said. “We’re focused on Tim today.”

Huelskamp is the latest flashpoint in the relationship between the Freedom Caucus and Ryan, who has largely earned praise from a group that was instrumental in forcing Boehner from his job.

Now, it appears that relationship is fraying.

Even before Huelskamp was routed, Freedom Caucus leaders were holding Ryan’s feet to the fire, urging his chairmen to hold hearings to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The hearings were held but never resulted in a vote, so Freedom leaders made a motion just before the summer recess to force a floor vote on impeachment when Congress returns next month.

Ryan only agreed to succeed Boehner if he won support from most of the three-dozen member conservative caucus.

In turn, Ryan pledged that he wouldn’t punish Republicans who defied leadership and he wouldn’t push for immigration reform while President Obama is in office.

Ryan after becoming Speaker helped Huelskamp win a subcommittee gavel and a slot on the powerful Steering Committee.

Ryan aides and allies on Capitol Hill said they’re confident he will stay on as Speaker next year. And Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a leader of the centrist Tuesday Group who also is part of the Speaker’s advisory group, said it’s “unfair” to blame the Ryan and questioned who else in the conference could secure 218 votes. 

“When a member loses his primary, it’s usually not the fault of leadership. I think it’s quite a stretch to blame leadership for any given member’s primary loss,” Dent told The Hill. 

“The bottom line is the same people who threatened John Boehner apparently want to threaten Paul Ryan, but the truth is that group doesn’t have a horse they can back,” Dent went on, “so I’m very confident that Paul Ryan will remain Speaker after the election, irrespective of any threats in the heat of the moment.” 

For his part, Ryan praised Huelskamp after his electoral defeat Tuesday night. He said Huelskamp’s 2010 class “swept the Republican Party back into power with a mandate from the American people to rein in out of control spending and make government accountable to the people again.” 

“Tim took that seriously,” Ryan said, “and never shied from a tough fight to get crony capitalism out of our government. I’m proud to serve with him.”

Other Ryan allies weren’t as magnanimous toward Huelskamp. “Good riddance,” said another House GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity.

“Why in the world would leadership want to do more to help someone who has never been a team player or someone they could even remotely rely on at any point? This is a two-way street,” the lawmaker said.

“Isn’t it ironic that members who have made a career out of demeaning, criticizing and undermining leadership are now upset that leadership isn’t doing more to help them?” 

One leadership source said Huelskamp has no one to blame but himself, adding that he had lost touch with his constituents and had stopped representing their interests, just as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did when he lost his 2014 primary.

“It is crazy to blame Ryan. A clear lesson of the last few years is this: Whether you are the House majority leader or a backbench rabble rouser, you better stay connected to your district. If you don’t, you won’t be back,” the leadership source said. 

Huelskamp is “not coming back because the people of Kansas voted him out. Local agriculture and business groups organized to oust Tim because they didn’t like the representation that they received from him.”

“It is as simple as that.” 

– Updated at 5:19 p.m.

Tags Boehner Eric Cantor John Boehner Paul Ryan
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