In the private meeting inside the House Ways and Means Committee hearing room in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised the House Freedom Caucus the world to try to earn their official endorsement. He failed.
Among the things that Ryan promised the members were a return to regular order, changes to the steering committee that decides committee assignments centralizing power in the Speaker’s office—Ryan even promised to give up the Speaker’s five votes on the committee—and an end to retaliation against Republican members who vote their conscience.
He reiterated his promise made in the full GOP conference on Tuesday of no amnesty bill under President Obama—which conspicuously did not extend to the next president—and an end to crisis-to-crisis governance under outgoing Speaker John Boehner. He also promised more “regional representation” rather than representation centralized in the Speaker’s office.
There were only two catches to Ryan’s litany of promises: first, those present couldn’t tell the public what just happened because, Ryan argued, it would infuriate the other side of the House GOP conference. And Ryan would get what he wanted with significant changes to a House rule that was put in place back in the early 1800s by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and the author of America’s Declaration of Independence from King George.
That rule of course allows any member to offer a “motion to vacate the chair” as a privileged resolution—allowing members to, if a Speaker is out of control, as Boehner has been, remove a Speaker from power. Ryan wants to severely undercut the power of rank-and-file members to hold a Speaker accountable with a motion to vacate the chair; Ryan’s spokesman has said that no Speaker can “be successful with this weapon pointed at them all the time.” So he wants to keep members from being able to use it whenever necessary, essentially ending the original intent Jefferson had with the check and balance.
So, heading into the meeting with Ryan—which began just after 4 p.m. on Wednesday—there was near-unanimous opposition to Ryan in the House Freedom Caucus. Like Breitbart News, Fox News’ Chad Pergram reported that it was “unlikely” that Ryan received the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus. Almost every member, save for a few like Reps. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), opposed a Ryan Speakership—and they were agreeing to the meeting simply to be fair. But when Ryan made all these promises to them in there, many of the members believed him at face value.
Ryan’s spokesman Brendan Buck—a former Boehner staffer—hasn’t denied that Ryan made all of these promises, and several sources, including those in the meeting, have confirmed to Breitbart News that Ryan made them.
Key to understanding the gravity of this meeting is that Ryan made all these nice-sounding promises to the members on the condition that they surrendered the only two ways to enforce such promises: going public, or kicking him out of office down the road.
Several of the members worry that Ryan is untrustworthy and dishonest—given the misleading nature of the way he has sold Republicans in the past on Obamatrade, “doc fix,” the budget deal he cut with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), immigration, and many more issues. Thus, if he moves forward with a bid for the House Speakership after failing to receive the endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus–something he and his office said they would not do–even members in the Freedom Caucus who would have supported him will have reason to believe that Ryan is entirely untrustworthy and dishonest and withdraw their previous support for him.
These conservative lawmakers would, in that case, likely simply return to the position they held heading into the meeting with Ryan earlier in the day—where they were “hell no” against him, since the promises he made in the meeting mean nothing if the first move he makes toward the Speakership is breaking a promise he made to the GOP conference and to the public.
It remains to be seen what happens next, but Politico is reporting that Ryan may move forward with a Speakership bid—meaning his first move after the Freedom Caucus withheld an endorsement of him would be breaking a promise to them. Will they believe him on everything else he told them in that room?
If they do vote for him, and he doesn’t deliver all these things, the Freedom Caucus becomes politically irrelevant. If they don’t believe him after the first move he’d make is breaking a promise–to Americans and to his GOP colleagues about a condition that would need to be filled for him to run for Speaker–it’s entirely possible the Freedom Caucus members who previously would have supported Ryan turn on him in the coming days.
It goes without saying, though, that Ryan is a brilliant strategist who cooked this whole master plan up from the beginning.