Rep. Dave Brat (R-PA)
Rep. Dave Brat (R-PA) |

Dave Brat: Conservatives open to Ryan speakership, with conditions

A leader of the conservative insurgency says right-leaning congressmen may get behind Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan for speaker of the House.

But Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia cautioned that the Republican leadership must offer some incentives to conservatives such as the House Freedom Caucus.

"Leadership has doled out retribution on several members, kicking people off of committees, taking away chairmanships, penalizing people with fundraising and blacklisting people from PAC financial giving and that kind of thing,” Brat told AMI Newswire Wednesday. “So I don’t think it is too much to ask that whoever rises to leadership will take a pledge to work with more of a bottom-up philosophy.” 

Brat said he and other Freedom Caucus members insist on more cooperation from party leadership, following a long-troubled relationship between back benchers and outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. 

The Republican House leadership is in disarray following Boehner's announcement that he will step down at the end of this month and the subsequent implosion of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's bid to replace him. Conservative Republicans are not eager to compromise with a leadership they say has been unwilling to stand up for GOP principles. 

Brat is no stranger to this ongoing conflict. In 2014, he upset then-majority leader Eric Cantor in a primary, a strong early signal of the conservative discontent that has now turned the process of selecting a new speaker into a quagmire. 

Ryan, who served as Mitt Romney's running mate in his 2012 presidential bid, has said he does not want the position, but that has not stopped conservatives both in and out of Congress from announcing their opposition to him.

Brat said conservatives could accept Ryan as speaker provided he follows a simple set of rules meant to protect the values of all members.

Brat’s own version of this is a list of 10 commitments expected of the next speaker. Those commitments include movement toward balancing the budget, effecting an Obamacare replacement, beefing up border security, pursuing fiscal responsibility and enforcing the separation of powers to prevent presidential overreach.

Brat is also asking that the next speaker reform House conference rules to provide better representation, prevent retaliation against House members who step out of line with leadership and allow more opportunities for individual House members to pursue their legislative agenda. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a CNN commentator, has praised Brat's plan. 

The 40-member strong House Freedom Caucus condemned Boehner for denying leadership positions and other opportunities to conservatives after he took over as speaker in 2011. Conservatives also came out strongly against heir-apparent McCarthy of California before McCarthy withdrew his bid to succeed Boehner.

Last week, prominent Republicans floated the idea of Ryan as a consensus pick. The 45-year-old Ryan has resisted the call, citing the strain of the speakership and the need to be present for his young family. Many influential conservatives, such as radio host Mark Levin, agree that Ryan should not be the next speaker.

However, the Republicans are short on options, and many observers expect Ryan to change his mind if another suitable candidate does not receive enough support. 

Brat, an outspoken member of the House Freedom Caucus, has expressed concern over Ryan’s support of immigration amnesty. But he said he and the other Freedom Caucus members are open to any Speaker who will follow a set of simple rules meant to level the playing field.

The House speaker wields an enormous amount of power. In addition to being the gatekeeper of all legislation heard in the House, the speaker appoints members of Congress to committee leadership positions. House conservatives bristled as Boehner used the threat of taking committee appointments away and pulling campaign backing as tools to keep party members in line with party leadership.

That type of behavior is something Brat said he and other Freedom Caucus members would like to see changed.

Any candidate who would not abuse the speaker’s powers to quell dissent within the party is a viable candidate, according to Brat.

“My people did not elect me to follow a speaker,” Brat said. “They elected me to follow them and represent them. And that is the problem. When there is a conflict, the speaker holds tremendous power and can shape and dominate the whole agenda of what comes to the floor and what does not.”

Brat, a free-market economist, said part of the problem with past leadership in the House has been caving to pressure from special interests to kill bills before they can be heard from the membership at large.

“I would say most all of them would easily make these commitments — there shouldn’t be anything shocking about it,” Brat said. “The question is when they ascend to leadership: As soon as they get that role, there is tremendous pressure that is going to rain down on them from Wall Street, K Street, the donor class, the talking heads, etc. — the crony capitalists.”

Brat said he and Freedom Caucus expect the next speaker to allow bills to come to a vote on the floor, even if they are unpopular with the leadership.

“We don’t want to enforce our position on him, either,” Brat said. “We just want to ensure a fair process. If he does that and allows votes to come up to the entire conference through the committee structure, then the majority will win.”