House Speaker Paul Ryan has many tools to prevent the discharge petition from reaching the House floor — and even to prevent a clear majority of legislators from passing the planned amnesty.
Twenty GOP legislators have signed the petition, just five short of the number need to let the Democrats get 218 votes for a floor vote on an amnesty bill. When, or if, 25 GOP members have signed, Democrats can rush another 193 signatures on the petition, giving them then 218 votes they need to force a vote on the floor, which can happen the following month.
Voters can make their opinions clear, and the President can threaten a veto, but House Speaker Ryan has the institutional and political power to make or break the amnesty petition — and to avoid turning the floor over to Rep. Nancy Pelosi in the run-up to the November election.
Ryan can demote, defund and defenestrate GOP legislators who sign the petition.
“What can be doing is beating the crap out of these moderates just like they would be beating the crap out of conservatives if they were trying to do this,” said Rachel Bovard, policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute.
Ryan can exclude members from joint fundraisers, deny them any share of collective funds and kick them out of the committee slots which make members attractive to donors. He can ask donors to stop donating, and he can ask allies to stop allying, and he can threaten to freeze out retiring members if they start lobbying for favors.
In 2015, 34 House members voted against the House Speaker John Boehner’s leadership on a trade issue.
Boehner retaliated and Rep. Mark Meadows temporarily losing the chairmanship of a House subcommittee. Rep. Steve Pearce from New Mexico and two other legislators were kicked out of the whip’s team for the same cause.
Rep. Richard Nugent got the hook in 2015 when he voted against Boehner in the leadership election. Shortly after, Politico reported:
Campaign checks from corporate political action committees have all but dried up. GOP leaders have prohibited him from traveling on congressional trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Bills that Nugent has written have been snatched away and doled out to other members of the House Republican Conference, including one dealing with mental health. And Boehner kicked him … off the influential Rules Committee.
In 2012, conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp was pushed out of the Budget Committee and the Agriculture Committee. Four years, later, he was defeated in a primary by a business-backed rival.
So far, Ryan has not visibly penalized any of the 20 GOP members who have signed the petition.
The retiring Speaker can get the next Speaker to pressure House legislators.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is Ryan’s expected replacement — unless the party fractures itself before the election.
“Paul Ryan is a lame duck Speaker, but Kevin McCarthy could be threatening people,” said Vaughan. “It is hard for [Ryan] to lean on people— there is not much pressure that he can put on them” because everyone knows he is departing, she said. But people know they can lose out if they try to ignore demands from the next House Speaker.
After weeks of quiet, McCarthy now appears willing to push back. On Tuesday, for example, Breitbart News reported that McCarthy urged GOP members to not sign the petition:
“Our numbers are better,” McCarthy told House GOP members, per a source in the room. “If election is today we win. Will we continue to grow. But few things can disrupt us. We cannot disrupt ourselves. Intensity levels are still not there, and discharge petitions release the power of the floor that the American people gave us the responsibly to hold. When you release that power the majority goes to Nancy. If you want to depress intensity this is number one way to do it. We can debate internally but don’t let someone else like Nancy decide our future.”
The Speaker can put the Goodlatte bill on the floor.
The discharge petition offers an amendment to a bigger immigration bill created by Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Rep. Mike McCaul, the chairmen of the House judiciary committee and the House homeland security committee.
The petition’s status as an amendment means that it is sidelined if the House debates the Goodlatte bill, said Bovard.
The petition says:
Pursuant to clause 2 of rule XV, I, [Rep.] Carlos Curbelo, move to discharge the Committee on Rules from the consideration of the resolution (H.Res. 774) entitled, a resolution providing for consideration of the [Goodlatte] bill (H.R. 4760) to amend the immigration laws and the homeland security laws, and for other purposes, which was referred to said committee March 13, 2018, in support of which motion the undersigned Members of the House of Representatives affix their signatures …
“Kill this discharge petition in the cradle — bring the [Goodlatte] bill to the floor and make [GOP] people vote for it,” she said. A big fight would show the base that their legislators are fighting for them, and show voters what immigration policies are being pushed by Democrats, she said, adding “a big ‘ol fight right before the midterms would be hugely clarifying.”
If the petition gets to 218 votes, the Speaker can block the vote by keeping the House out of session for just two days each month.
The petition rules say debates forced by petitions can only be held on two Mondays of each month. According to the rules:
If the Member is successful in convincing a majority of the total membership of the House (218 Members) to sign a discharge petition, the motion to discharge is placed on the Calendar of Motions to Discharge Committees and becomes eligible for consideration on the second or fourth Monday of the month after a seven legislative day layover
“It is the one play the Speaker has if they get 218,” said Bovard. “Just not have the House in session in the second and fourth Mondays.”