Ryan faces new pressures from House conservatives

Ryan faces new pressures from House conservatives
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A year after the Freedom Caucus pressured John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE to resign as Speaker, members of the conservative group have begun threatening his successor, Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE.

Members are still furious the new Speaker didn’t do more to help Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas in his failed primary bid this summer. They’re pressuring Ryan to back a vote to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in the coming days. And they’re daring the Wisconsin Republican to ignore Freedom Caucus demands on a government-funding package and pass it with help from Democrats.


“How’d that work out for John Boehner?” quipped Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarDomestic extremists return to the Capitol Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member and frequent thorn in the side of both Speakers.

Gosar didn’t back Ryan for Speaker last October, so his tough talk isn’t surprising.

But some of Gosar’s Freedom Caucus colleagues who publicly voted for Ryan are now threatening to oppose him in a January floor vote depending on how he navigates this tricky set of issues before the election.

“He has to earn my vote, and he has not earned it yet,” said one caucus member who supported Ryan last year and asked to remain anonymous. “The question many of us have is whether his leadership is any different than BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE’s.

“Can you name a result that is fundamentally different than when Boehner was Speaker? The answer is no.”

A third caucus member and past Ryan supporter told The Hill he was still angry that the Speaker didn’t do everything within his power to ­reinstate Huelskamp on the Agriculture Committee before his Aug. 2 primary. Boehner (R-Ohio) had kicked the Kansas Republican off the panel years earlier, and many believe Huelskamp’s failure to win back his spot cost him his reelection.  

“The Speaker has not addressed the Huelskamp issue in a satisfactory manner,” the caucus member told The Hill on Wednesday. “That, together with his business-as-usual approach, will make the January vote very difficult.”

A Ryan spokeswoman declined to comment about the Freedom Caucus threats.

It’s unclear at this point how many GOP votes Ryan can afford to lose in the January roll call and still hold on to power. He’ll need at least 218 Republican votes, or more than half of the 435 members of the House, to keep his top leadership post.

Ryan received 236 votes for Speaker last October, 18 more than he needed. Nine Republicans cast their ballot for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).

Republicans are expected to lose a handful of their current 246 seats this November, meaning the GOP will have a smaller majority and Ryan will have less room for error in the New Year.

So far, Ryan doesn’t have a challenger in the Speaker’s race. But if he barely squeaks by or misses the 218 mark, pushing the vote to a second ballot, Ryan will appear weakened as he heads into his first full, two-year term as Speaker.

When asked who other than Ryan could amass 218 votes, Gosar replied: “You never know until you try. Anything is possible.”

The not-so-subtle threats from Freedom Caucus members — four months before the public vote for Speaker — come as the bloc of conservative rebels seeks to insert itself into bipartisan negotiations over a short-term bill to fund the government before money runs out Sept. 30.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeking challenger to McConnell as Senate GOP leader: report Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' Buckle up for more Trump, courtesy of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he’s putting together a continuing resolution, or CR, that would fund the government through Dec. 9, setting up a vote on an omnibus spending package in a post-election, lame-duck session. Ryan has been in close contact with McConnell on the funding issue, aides said.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters his group is “very concerned” about the lame-duck approach, arguing the CR could be loaded up with Democratic goodies and lead to higher spending. The conservative lawmakers want Congress to approve a stopgap funding bill through March that they say would allow GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE to negotiate a longer-term deal if he wins the White House.

Some Freedom Caucus members have signaled a willingness to support a 10-week funding bill if it includes GOP provisions to halt a Syrian refugee resettlement program. But Jordan balked at that suggestion.

“We’re open to talking about things. We just think it’s a bad idea,” Jordan said. “We’re very concerned about any CR that lands in the lame-duck.”

Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and a possible presidential candidate in 2020, isn’t showing his cards, even as the Senate inches closer to passing a short-term CR. Ryan has scheduled a special meeting on Friday for House Republicans to discuss a path forward on funding the government and addressing the Zika virus.

He’ll host a separate meeting next week focused on how to handle the Freedom Caucus’s push for a floor vote to impeach Koskinen. Just before the summer recess, two caucus members — Huelskamp and Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE (R-La.), a Senate candidate — filed a “privileged” resolution to force the impeachment vote, accusing the IRS commissioner of obstructing a congressional probe into agency officials targeting conservative groups.

GOP leaders have been cool to the idea of impeaching Koskinen — the most recent Cabinet official impeached was President Ulysses Grant’s War secretary in 1876. But because the resolution is privileged, it will receive a vote on the floor in the near future, Ryan explained.

“Members will vote how they want to vote on this,” he said without tipping his hand.

Ryan allies in the House, however, said an impeachment vote without going through the regular committee process was ill-advised. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a leader of the centrist Tuesday Group and a close Ryan adviser, said colleagues should vote to table the resolution or send it back to the Judiciary Committee.

Dent’s group hosted Koskinen during its weekly meeting on Wednesday to gather information from the top tax official before the impeachment vote. About 40 members attended the meeting.

“Impeachment is not something that should be dealt with lightly or in an overtly political manner,” Dent said in an interview.

Dent, who has continued serving as Ethics Committee chairman under Ryan, also scolded the Freedom Caucus for making what he saw as empty threats against the Speaker.

“The Speaker of the House has an obligation to lead and to govern. If you didn’t come here to govern, why the hell are you here?” Dent asked.

“The Speaker has responsibilities to the institution, he has responsibilities to the country, responsibilities to the men and women in uniform,” he said, “and I think that trumps any half-ass political threat that might be made.”