Paul Ryan’s decision to vote for the controversial budget deal John Boehner negotiated with the White House isn’t expected to complicate his ascension to the speaker’s chair.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), despite making plain their disgust with the $80 billion budget bill, have no intention of staging a floor revolt against Ryan’s bid for speaker now that he’s handily won a closed-door vote of the Republican conference. They have too many reasons to stick with him: They’re sympathetic to the tactical thinking that went into Boehner’s decision to broker the deal, even if they oppose its substance; they don’t have the clout to elect anyone they like better; and they’re comforted by the pledges Ryan has made to give them a bigger voice by overhauling the legislative process.
Representative Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who filed the motion to depose Boehner in late July, absolved Ryan of wrongdoing. “His support for the budget is not indicative of abandoning that principle as much as it is everyone having their backs against the wall,” he tells National Review. “I can’t support the budget under any condition. [But] Ryan’s support of it — I don’t see that as a litmus test.”
Ryan might have been insulated from HFC anger by the understanding that he was powerless to kill the deal — which raises the debt limit until March 2017 — even if he’d wanted to. “Boehner has 100 votes easy,” one HFC member – who allowed he was “disappointed” by Ryan’s decision — told NR before the vote. In the end, that was a slight overstatement; but his point held true: 79 Republicans joined 187 Democrats in securing easy passage of the bill.
What’s more, though the HFC officially opposed the deal in a blistering statement Wednesday morning, some members concede that there’s a good-faith argument to be made for ending the threat of a fiscal crisis.
“A government shutdown is exactly what Democrats want to push us into,” says Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), who also voted against the deal. “It’s not a deterrent to them; it’s an inducement. And anything that we can do to have a better chance to have principled discussion that is not completely overshadowed by a deliberate attempt to sabotage the process, I think, is a plus.”
#share#Ryan intends to pick up that theme when he accepts the speaker’s gavel tomorrow. “We have nothing to fear from honest differences honestly stated. If you have ideas, let’s hear them,” Ryan will say, according to an aide. “A greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us.” He also plans to “honor Speaker Boehner and ask that both parties put the past behind them and begin the process of healing,” the aide says.
After months of insurgency, the Freedom Caucus regards Ryan as the best man to steer that process. “There is no plan to go forward with anybody who would be better than Ryan who would get 218 votes,” says the anonymous HFC member. “It was a bad vote, for sure. But I think that most people just look at it and say, ‘We’ve got to try to unify at some point.’ And if he’s going to have conservatives be at the table . . . then that’s a lot better than the old regime.”
#related#Ryan has promised to do just that, by instituting changes to the legislative process that will empower the HFC’s conservative rank-and-file. So far, they’re taking him at his word, exuding a cautious optimism that their seat at the table is forthcoming. But if he fails to deliver it, Ryan may have a fight on his hands.
“I believe he’s sincere,” Meadows says, “but I also believe he knows there are a number of us willing to hold him accountable.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review. Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.