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House Freedom Caucus Skeptical of Ryan’s Terms

Ryan will run for speaker. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Ryan will run for speaker. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Paul D. Ryan’s conditional announcement for speaker was immediately met with overwhelming support Tuesday evening, with the notable exception of one key constituency: The House Freedom Caucus.  

Among Ryan’s conditions to run were two critical sticking points: that the HFC endorse him by Friday, and that the conference agrees to some changes on the motion to vacate the chair. As outlined in Jefferson’s Manual, the vacate the chair procedure allows any member to offer a privileged resolution to get rid of the speaker, with only a majority vote required for the resolution to succeed. That power, the threat of which conservatives used to expedite Speaker John A. Boehner’s exit, was an immediate point of contention for Freedom Caucus members.  

“I thought if it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it was probably good enough for the U.S. House today,” Tim Huelskamp, an HFC member from Kansas, told CQ Roll Call.

Timeline: To Be (or Not to Be) Speaker

The Wisconsin Republican laughed when CQ Roll Call presented Ryan with that quote. Ryan said he had nothing more to add.  

Huelskamp said if conservatives agreed to changes on the motion to vacate the chair, Ryan would have more power than any other speaker in history.  

“Never thought Paul Ryan would come in and say, ‘I want more power than John Boehner has,'” Huelskamp said.  

“How do you get rid of a speaker that has problems?” the Kansan asked. “Every organization, except for a dictatorship, has a motion to vacate the chair.”  

Perhaps just as troublesome for Ryan’s speaker bid is the condition that the Freedom Caucus endorse him. One of the founding members of the group, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, told CQ Roll Call the group’s bylaws were “very clear” in requiring a four-fifths majority to come to such a position.  

HFC Chairman Jim Jordan acknowledged the group’s rules stipulate it would take an 80 percent vote to reach a position, but he stopped short of saying that would be the threshold for an endorsement. All Jordan would say Tuesday is the HFC would meet again this week to discuss.  

Should members of the conservative group stick to their bylaws, an 80 percent threshold would seem to be a tall task, particularly if Ryan continues his demand of changing the motion to vacate.  

Raúl R. Labrador, another one of the founding members of the HFC who met with Ryan Tuesday, called changes to the motion to vacate the chair a “non-starter.” Asked if he could see four-fifths of the Freedom Caucus supporting a candidate looking to change that process, Labrador doubted even one-fifth of the HFC would do so.  

Labrador said Ryan needed to talk to the Freedom Caucus, and he acknowledged that details of Ryan’s conditions were hazy. Shortly after Tuesday’s conference meeting, most members seemed to think Ryan intended to eliminate the motion to vacate the chair. A Ryan spokesman told CQ Roll Call he wants to “de-weaponize” it.  

Ryan hasn’t specified what that means: Does he want to raise the threshold of the motion to vacate from a simple majority to, say, two-thirds? Does he want to strip the motion of its privileged status? Either way, conservatives were immediately turned off by the idea.  

“That’s a protection for the people,” Justin Amash, R-Mich., said.  

Amash acknowledged he didn’t know the specifics of Ryan’s proposal, but he didn’t sound open to a significant overhaul.  

“Maybe there’s some procedural change he wants that maintains the motion to vacate, but, in any event, it’s a protection for the people,” Amash said, holding off further judgment until Freedom Caucus members could discuss the issue with Ryan.  

Ryan, however, already seems to have most of the conference on his side. He could always decide that he can live without Freedom Caucus support. And if he wants to be speaker, he may have to.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

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