Freedom Caucus’s Cunning Plan Could Hand the House to Democrats

So you want Pelosi to be speaker? Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

For years the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has been a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership. Now, in a twist, GOP moderates have banded together in an effort to force votes on immigration, including a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The Freedom Caucus will not stand for a vote on so-called “amnesty,” so they’re calling for harsh punishments for moderates who dare to defy party leaders — though that could make it even likelier that Democrats win control of the House in November.

The moderate Republicans have banded together with House Democrats to support a discharge petition, a rare maneuver that would allow them to circumvent Speaker Paul Ryan and force a vote on four immigration measures. This would include a measure that protects young undocumented immigrants in exchange for border security funding, without provisions from Representative Bob Goodlatte’s conservative immigration bill, like legal-immigration cuts and money for Trump’s border wall.

The Freedom Caucus already derailed passage of the farm bill last week over Ryan’s failure to meet their demand for a vote on the Goodlatte bill, and now the immigration issue is plunging the House GOP deeper into chaos. Though by definition, a discharge petition means members are acting without the leadership’s consent, conservatives are holding Ryan responsible for the moderates’ efforts, claiming he and other party leaders could be doing more to stop them. Here’s how they think he should proceed, according to Politico:

Conservatives are so desperate to stop the discharge petition that they’re suggesting Ryan strong-arm moderates to get them to back down — though they decried ex-Speaker John Boehner’s use of such tactics against them in the past. Leaders should consider revoking National Republican Congressional Committee financial help or other perks to keep moderates from forcing the issue, several have said. Such a move would be devastating for those centrists, many of whom hail from swing districts targeted by Democrats.

“I know when I voted against a rule, [leadership] threatened to take away all travel, they threatened to take away NRCC contributions,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “Most of those people who are on the discharge petition are very much closer to leadership than members of the Freedom Caucus, so I don’t see them” defying leadership.

So the conservatives are suggesting that months before an election in which Republicans may lose control of the House by just a few seats, the leadership should punish their weakest members by withholding campaign money.

In general, engaging in more intra-party squabbling isn’t a smart strategy for the midterms. During a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, Ryan told members of the caucus that they need to remain united and act like they’re the majority party, according to the New York Times. Representative Mark Amodei told reporters that Ryan got so worked up that he “used the word ‘crap’ once.”

“For Paul Ryan, ‘crap’ is pretty blue language,” Amodei said.

Ryan’s foul-mouthed call for unity was met with loud applause, but so far it doesn’t appear it had any effect. A discharge petition couldn’t be considered before June 25, and moderates had already agreed to hold off on collecting the last few signatures to give Ryan a chance to bypass that process by holding hold two immigration votes, one on a conservative immigration bill and another on a bill that a majority of House Republicans can support. But while the Freedom Caucus claims they want to negotiate, they rejected that option. Also, if there was a compromise bill that a majority of the caucus could support, Republicans would have voted on it months ago.

For now it’s unclear whether Republicans will be voting on one, two, or four immigration proposals in the coming weeks, and in the meantime they’re engaging in yet another form of self-destructive behavior: floating the idea of replacing Ryan as speaker prematurely. Some argue that once Ryan announced his retirement last month, he lost his ability to rein in the caucus; while Ryan plans to remain speaker until the end of his term in January, they want him forced out this summer. Over the weekend, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney even endorsed the idea of installing Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sooner rather than later, though both men later denied that’s the plan.

There’s little evidence that ousting Ryan is the solution to the House GOP’s problems. While Ryan has endorsed McCarthy and he’s the front-runner for the job, many aides and lawmakers told the Washington Post on Tuesday that there currently isn’t anyone who could easily win a race for speaker.

“If we have a speaker’s race, then it takes everyone’s eye off the ball of what’s most important, and that is keeping the majority,” said Representative Rodney Davis, chair of the centrist Republican Main Street Caucus. “It would be the most short-lived time in the speaker’s chair that anyone could have asked for.”

Freedom Caucus’s Strategy Could Hand the House to Democrats