Rep. Paul Ryan (R–WI)
Rep. Paul Ryan (R–WI) |

Conservatives: Paul Ryan has backed off a key House speaker demand

Rep. Paul Ryan has dropped his effort to forestall a new election for speaker of the House, according to members of the House Freedom Caucus. But Ryan indicated late Wednesday that he is standing by his demand that a conservative congressman drop a motion to vacate the speakership. 

The demand that House members drop the motion was one of five the Wisconsin Republican made in discussions of his anticipated run for speaker.

Ryan, who is best known as the vice-presidential candidate in Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential campaign, met Tuesday night with leaders of the House Freedom Caucus. Ryan presented the caucus with a set of conditions under which he would serve as speaker of the House.

One of those requests was that his fellow Republicans not make any motions to vacate the speaker’s seat. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina conservative, introduced a House motion recently to vacate the seat Ohio Rep. John Boehner will be leaving at the end of this month. That would force a new election for the powerful speaker post. 

House Freedom Caucus member Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R–Kan.) said he felt Ryan's request was unreasonable and welcomed the apparent decision to drop it.

“From what I can see he has already abandoned one demand — that is to eliminate and vacate the chair rule that has been around since Thomas Jefferson wrote it,” Huelskamp said.

Ryan's office, however, referred AMI Newswire to the congressman's statement Tuesday night. In an email, a Ryan spokesman described as "still accurate" a key part of the statement. 

“We need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative. This is, after all, the people’s house," Ryan said Tuesday. "But we need to do it as a team. And it needs to include fixes that ensure we don’t experience constant leadership challenges and crisis.”

The search for a new speaker has been ongoing since late September, when Boehner announced he would resign the chair. That decision followed a protracted campaign by the 40-member-strong House Freedom Caucus to change House leadership.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House majority leader and Boehner's apparent successor, dropped his own bid for speaker earlier this month, amid similar discontent from conservatives.

Ryan, seen by many as a compromise candidate after McCarthy's withdrawal, has been on the fence about seeking the House’s top position.

Ryan's other requests were: that his role as speaker not be focused as much on fundraising; that rule changes requested by the House Freedom Caucus be voted in by the entire Congress; that he be given ample time to spend with his family; and that all members of the conference vote for him for speaker.

The House Freedom Caucus has been circulating a questionnaire to potential speaker candidates, listing criteria the new speaker must meet in order to receive their support. Ryan surprised conservatives by suggesting his own criteria.

“This is a serious decision; this is a job interview,” Huelskamp said. “There are not many job interviews that you walk into and throw down a list of demands and say, ‘Hey, call me when you want to hire me.’ "

Huelskamp said a number of the requests are troubling, adding that House Freedom Caucus members were not allowed to question Ryan as the meeting ended, which caused grumbling within the caucus.

“We did not have any opportunity last night to ask him any questions,” Huelskamp said. “You’d think he would have done that and opened up the microphones and seen where it all heads. An election was scheduled and it seems like they are trying to rush through to that next.”

Replacing Boehner, whom many right-leaning members had hoped to remove from the speaker role for about two years, should not be a hasty decision, Huelskamp said.

Boehner, who became speaker in 2011, had a reputation for punishing members of Congress who did not fall in line with party leadership by stripping them of committee posts and chairmanships. House Freedom Caucus members say they want an end to that tactic.

“John Boehner left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, particularly with how he punished conservatives, and that has to end,” Huelskamp said.

“You have to give everybody a fresh start, and that is what I am hearing from fellow conservatives. They’d like to see what Paul Ryan actually has in mind and what he is willing to be specific about.”

Ryan will need to gain support from 80 percent of House Caucus members before the caucus will throw its support behind him.

Another meeting has been scheduled between Ryan and the entire House Freedom Caucus.