Paul Ryan has signed off on a letter promising restless members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) that he won’t bring immigration-reform legislation to the House floor while President Obama remains in office.
The letter, obtained exclusively by National Review, formalizes pledges that Ryan made last week in a closed-door meeting with select members of the HFC who were skeptical of his promise to maintain an “open” and “inclusive” relationship with the caucus. Specifically, it extracts Ryan’s word that he will not bring up comprehensive immigration reform “so long as Barack Obama is president” and, as speaker, Ryan will not allow any immigration bill to reach the floor for a vote unless a “majority” of GOP members support it.
It’s been widely reported that Ryan has promised to uphold the second promise in the letter — the so-called “Hastert Rule,” which is designed to ensure that legislation brought to the House floor has broad support in the Republican conference — but by agreeing to the letter’s substance, he’s giving his first endorsement of that policy as it specifically applies to immigration reform.
“If my portrayal of your words errs in any respect, please deliver to me . . . a written communication correcting my errors,” the letter reads. Brooks delivered it directly to Ryan on the House floor and says Ryan called his office during a staff meeting less than two hours later, confirming the accuracy of his promises as stated in the letter.
When reached for comment, Ryan confirms Brooks’ account. “I have long and publicly been opposed to the gang of eight bill, and there will be no comprehensive immigration reform under this president,” he tells National Review.
Ryan may have won over a supermajority of the HFC last Wednesday, but his record on immigration continues to haunt him. Many HFC members are reaping the whirlwind of their unofficial assent to a Ryan speakership, as constituents flood their offices with angry phone calls, demanding to know why they aren’t fighting to prevent a man who once rallied support for the failed “Gang of Eight” immigration-reform bill from taking control of the House.
But as Brooks tells it, Ryan’s pledge indicates a significant step toward allaying misgivings about his past immigration stances, especially among the handful of HFC members — Brooks included — who have chosen to maintain their support for Florida representative Daniel Webster over Ryan in the GOP-conference vote that precedes the full House’s official speaker’s election.
Brooks is glued to his computer when he speaks to NR, finalizing responses to the many incensed voters who have sent him complaints about Ryan. Nevertheless, with the presumptive speaker’s promise on immigration in tow, he says he’s beginning to look forward. Of the potential for a healthy HFC voice throughout Ryan’s term, Brooks says, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
He adds that he believes Ryan will keep his promises.
“I said [to him], ‘Ok, Paul . . . this issue is a major source of disagreement, but I trust you when you give me your word.’”
Read the full letter below:
Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated since its initial publication.
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.