Paul Ryan's spokesman: He realizes that immigration reform is impossible so long as Obama is president

This has been Rubio’s go-to line too over the past year whenever he’s been challenged on immigration, right? The idea, I guess, is that after his highly illegal executive mega-amnesty last November, Barack Obama can no longer be trusted to enforce any comprehensive bill that Congress might pass. That’s a convenient way for border doves like Ryan and Rubio to announce a politically beneficial change of heart towards hawkishness, at least in the short term, although it raises the question of why two promising young guys as smart as they are seem to have discovered so belatedly, after five years of Hopenchange, that maybe Obama doesn’t have America’s best interests at heart on immigration. He’s gung ho for legalization, not so gung ho for the sort of security improvements that would guarantee that the next mass amnesty is the last amnesty. Cynical conservatives had him pegged years ago on that point. Why didn’t our would-be Speaker and would-be president? And what lessons should we draw about their naivete from that?


Ah well. Ryan’s spokesman is telling the truth here, even if the reason stated isn’t the true reason why Ryan will be staying far away from amnesty for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. GOP leaders recognize that there’s nothing that would split the party and turbo-charge Trump’s candidacy quite like a gigantic sellout on immigration. Obama could resign tomorrow, Biden could rescind his executive amnesty, and still nothing’s going to happen on the subject in Congress. It’s pure poison until 2017.

Congressman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) told fellow Republicans members on Tuesday evening that he will not pursue immigration reform legislation if he is elected Speaker of the House next week.

A spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee chairman said that Ryan does not believe President Barack Obama to be an honest broker on the immigration issue, and would avoid the divisiveness that comes with immigration reform efforts while Obama remains in the White House.

Ryan “understands that we can’t address that issue with a president we can’t trust,” spokesman Brendan Buck said in an email.

Would that same logic apply to President Hillary? After all, she’s vowed to expand on Obama’s executive action — assuming it isn’t struck down by the Supreme Court first. If he’s untrustworthy, she’s at least as untrustworthy. And yet it’s not hard to imagine Clinton phoning Speaker Ryan soon after her inauguration to see if maybe there’s a deal to be had to finally get this issue off the table ASAP. If the House GOP revisits comprehensive immigration reform, it would want to do so as quickly as possible after an election to give conservatives the maximum amount of time to get over their anger before the next vote. Summer 2017 would seem like a prime opportunity for Hillary to nail down some major domestic bipartisan legislation early in her presidency. That’s why the Freedom Caucus’s decision on whom to back for Speaker will be far more important next fall than this week. Their real leverage in keeping Ryan or anyone else in line is with the January 2017 vote for Speaker. That year is the danger zone for an amnesty deal, not this one.


Meanwhile, John McCormack notes at the Standard that Ryan isn’t asking the Freedom Caucus to give up the right to bring a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair. What he wants is a reform to the process. What kind of reform? Hard to say:

Although Politico reports that Ryan wants to “do away with” the motion to vacate the chair, Ryan’s spokesman Brendan Buck told reporters last night that Ryan wants “a change to the process for a motion to vacate the chair,” but he didn’t call for scrapping it altogether.

Buck writes in an email today that Ryan has “not set on any one approach, just need to de-weaponize it so it’s not always hanging over the head of whoever is speaker.”

Ryan’s spokesman declined to comment on any specific potential changes to the process for a motion to vacate the chair, but one obvious change would be to increase the number of sponsors required to force a vote on the floor.

Instead of letting any single member bring a motion to vacate, the new rule might require, say, 20 percent of the full House to co-sponsor it. If the Freedom Caucus could convince a few dozen other Republicans that Ryan’s done a bad enough job as Speaker to warrant ousting him mid-term, the motion would come to a vote. Why the FC would agree to that, though, I don’t know: The whole point of this standoff with leadership is to gain leverage for the conservative minority, and the motion to vacate is a key part of that leverage. If you raise the threshold needed to move against the Speaker to, say, 87 co-sponsors, you’d force the Freedom Caucus to find as many votes outside its own membership on a motion to vacate as inside. From the standpoint of simple democracy, that makes sense: If a sizable minority of the GOP caucus, not just one tightly knit bloc, has a big enough problem with the Speaker that they’re willing to vote no confidence in him, maybe there really is a significant enough schism as to warrant a replacement. From the standpoint of the FC itself, though, it’s hard to justify. They’re giving up their motion to vacate in return for … what? A Speaker whom they don’t much trust on key issues? A few days’ worth of Strange New Respect from the media (“The Freedom Caucus grows up,” etc)?


I prefer the approach I mentioned in this post, treating Ryan’s Speakership over the next 15 months as essentially a tryout — for both sides. Rather than agree to formally give up the right to bring a motion to vacate, the FC could agree not to use it for the rest of this congressional term barring extraordinary circumstances, like a betrayal on immigration. They’d endorse Ryan and Ryan would have the next 15 months to show he can effectively represent the entire caucus. Maybe he’ll love the job and do so well at it that the FC will be happy to back him for a full term in January 2017. Maybe he’ll hate it and decide he’s had enough, or maybe the Freedom Caucus will decide that he hasn’t done enough and insist on a new Speaker for the new term. Since there’s no Plan B that the two sides might both agree on and it’s unlikely in the extreme that Ryan would do something drastic legislatively that scrambles the presidential race, what does either side really have to lose?

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