Will the Freedom Caucus Heed Paul Ryan’s Demands?

by Elaina Plott

Many House Republicans were upbeat on Tuesday evening when they left the private conference where Paul Ryan finally broke the silence on his potential Speaker bid. Ryan’s message was definitive: he will run, he said, if members of each Republican caucus, notably the conservative Freedom Caucus, rallied behind him and met his conditions for taking the job.

He painted most of those terms in broad strokes: no work on weekends, limited time campaigning and fundraising for GOP members, and a constant check on the travel typically required of the role. Representatives like Steve Stivers found the demands “very reasonable,” and pledged to throw their weight behind Ryan by his self-imposed Friday deadline.

But lagging behind the GOP members who trotted out of the meeting with smiles on their faces, enthusing as representative Ann Wagner did about Ryan’s “visionary” message, were members of the Freedom Caucus, many of whom stayed put in the room, talking for over an hour following Ryan’s announcement. There was much to discuss: among Ryan’s terms was the repeal of the Motion to Vacate the Chair, which Thomas Jefferson authored and which gives House members the power to oust a sitting Speaker. It’s the piece of parliamentary procedure that’s been cited in the attempts to dethrone John Boehner, and based on conversations with two Freedom Caucus members, could prove Ryan’s most difficult obstacle to gaining their support.

“It was my understanding that Thomas Jefferson thought that was a good rule for the House,” representative Tim Huelskamp says. “Is Ryan thinking he’s better than Jefferson?”

According to Huelskamp, Ryan’s demands are strategic. “He really doesn’t want the job,” he says. By putting forth a list of “un-meetable demands,” as Huelskamp labels them, Ryan is betting that Freedom Caucus members will force his hand. If those members don’t choose to accept his terms, Ryan won’t have to run. But rather than blaming Ryan for not stepping up, Huelskamp says, “members will be forced to say, ‘Well, he tried.’”

Another Freedom Caucus member says “Ryan has placed us in a bind here, and he knows it.” The member echoes Huelskamp, noting that Ryan’s demand to repeal the Jefferson motion was “outrageous. It’s hard for me to believe we’ll get behind that.”

For Freedom Caucus members, according to the member and Huelskamp, Ryan’s message read as a power grab, a carbon copy of the reasons the House’s right flank ousted Boehner in the first place. “Boehner failed because of his desire to consolidate power. What Paul Ryan is asking for is even more power and less responsibility,” Huelskamp says. “He’s negotiating like President Obama, saying ‘you do what I say, and that’s negotiation.’”

Will the Freedom Caucus support his demands come Friday?

Huelskamp indicates that they won’t be easy to persuade. “We’re not gonna go for, no, you know, saying Thomas Jefferson made a mistake,” he says. 

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