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Politics & Policy

Speaker Ryan’s Conditions

(Win McNamee/Getty)

It looks like Paul Ryan will do the job, but he’ll do it on his own terms.

He laid them out at a Republican-conference meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, telling his colleagues he wants the bickering to end. That means, Republicans said as they exited the meeting, he wants universal endorsements from the various caucuses, specifically from the conservative Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee, and the more moderate Tuesday Group. He gave members until Friday to let him know if they could rally behind him, so that he could make preparations or give other candidates the opportunity to do so.

“If I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve,” Ryan reiterated to reporters later. If not, he said, “I’ll be happy to stay where I am at the Ways and Means Committee.”

Ryan told reporters the next speaker should be “a visionary one,” and said he told colleagues “we need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative,” and to do so in a way that brought an end to the constant “crises.”

But he emphasized that he had grave concerns about the toll this would take on his family, especially his young children, and told members he would not be giving up weekends, or traveling as often as Boehner has done in the role.

“He said he had to make it home on weekends for his oxygen, which included his family, his church, and a deer stand,” Representative Ann Wagner, of Missouri, tells National Review. Ryan opened the speech by telling his colleagues he had written his remarks in a deer stand.

The speaker has traditionally taken on heavy fundraising duties, helping to elect Republicans to the House. Wagner, who serves as finance chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says the committee is fine with Ryan’s proposal and is working on a plan to ensure the committee’s fundraising remains in good shape. She says she was also heartened by his statement that when he did travel to help Republicans campaign, he would focus not just on fundraising but on communication, and would do more local press and grassroots events – activities past speakers have not usually engaged in.

The response to the speech, which Wagner describes as “uplifting” and “visionary,” was hugely positive.

“Overwhelming applause,” said Representative Darrel Issa, of California, as he was leaving the meeting.

Ryan was the only one to speak at the meeting, Wagner says. She says that when Boehner introduced him, he said, “he’s been in the witness protection program now for a week, and we’re gonna hear from him.”

Though it wasn’t a night in which Ryan was making many concessions — aside from a nod that he was seriously considering taking a job he has said publicly he does not want — he also hinted strongly that he will not bring an immigration bill to the House floor. He told his colleagues the issue was simply “too divisive” and he wanted to focus on the things on which the conference is in agreement, like border security and internal enforcement, as opposed to a comprehensive bill.

Whether Ryan’s proposals will be enough to placate conservatives who have been clamoring for broader institutional reforms that would democratize the House remains to be seen. Issa and Wagner say they did not see any opposition when Ryan concluded his speech, but in a conversation with National Review, Representative Tim Huelskamp, of Kansas, says he and others were “put off” by the “list of unmeetable conditions” Ryan had put forth, specifically his demand to repeal Thomas Jefferson’s motion to vacate the chair, which gives representatives the power to oust a sitting Speaker, as they did with Boehner.

“It was my understanding that Thomas Jefferson thought that was good for the House,” Huelskamp says, “and Paul Ryan thinks he doesn’t have to live by that?”

Boehner’s failure, Huelskamp adds, was in his desire to “consolidate power,” and based on Ryan’s message, it seems he’s interested in doing the same thing. “What Paul Ryan is asking for is even more power and less responsibility.”

For Huelskamp, Ryan’s conditions, which also included “not traveling on weekends” and “not campaigning,” were “baffling.”

“The best thing I can assume is that he really doesn’t want the job,” he says. “You put forth a list of conditions that nobody is going to throw their weight behind, and force people to tell you ‘no,’ rather than the other way around . . . that’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

Wagner saw it differently. Ryan seemed excited, not reluctant, she says, and said if he won the speakership, he would fully embrace the role.

“He said, ‘Hey, I’m in for a dime, I’m in for a dollar. I’m all in,’” she recounts.


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