Quotes of the day

Representative Paul D. Ryan said Thursday that he would seek to replace John A. Boehner as House speaker after two factions of the House Republicans — one small and moderate, one mainstream and large — endorsed him, bringing him close to securing the speaker’s gavel he had never wanted to seek.

“I never thought I’d be speaker,” Mr. Ryan said in a lengthy email to his Republican colleagues. “But I pledged to you that if I could be a unifying figure, then I would serve, I would go all in. After talking with so many of you and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as one, united team. And I am ready and eager to be our speaker.”


Paul Ryan revealed a bold to-do list when he agreed to run for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but to carry it out he will need a level of compromise and cohesion that has been sorely lacking on Capitol Hill for a long time

“I know many of you want to show the country how to fix our tax code, how to rebuild our military, how to strengthen the safety net, and how to lift people out of poverty.”…

“There’s probably a honeymoon period,” said veteran Republican Representative Mike Simpson of Ryan’s likely tenure in the House’s most powerful post. “But it will be very brief because we’ve got some big issues.”


Ryan, who officially announced his candidacy for speaker late Thursday, spent an hour Friday talking with about a dozen of the most conservative members of the GOP conference. Before running, Ryan said he needed to have support from all factions of the House GOP to prevent the party fractures that characterized House Speaker John Boehner’s tenure.

“I walked out of the room optimistic that we can form a unified conference and it is going to be happy to come back to work again,” Rep. Steve King, R-IA, said after meeting with Ryan.

“We had a very productive meeting, a lot of discussions,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, who also attended the meeting…

“When you put your speakership on the line and you say this will stop [the culture of retribution], and I will talk to those folks, that’s a very strong commitment,” Huelskamp added.


In the end, the two sides have reached a temporary détente, which will allow Paul to become speaker under most of the terms he set — and the Freedom Caucus to hold out the possibility of serious turbulence for Ryan later if he doesn’t deliver on his less-than-concrete assurances.

Ryan still wants to overhaul the motion-to-vacate procedure, saying it’s impossible for a speaker to operate under the threat of a coup at at minute. But he agreed to wait until later hash it out with the group of hardliners. The talks will take place in the coming weeks when the entire House Republican Conference launches a fuller debate about changes to House and Republican conference rules…

“Does it make sense for your first issue as a unity speaker to be so divisive? It doesn’t. Paul didn’t make a firm commitment to anything we asked for and we didn’t make a firm commitment to anything he asked for,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

He added, “We are concerned about many of the same things. [But] it will be a cold day in hell before we solve [our] problems by making the speaker more powerful.”


Ronald Reagan’s fusionist conservative movement still exists and still holds sway within the Republican Party, but it has been threatened of late. A small minority seems willing to convert this great movement into its political opposite — an inward-looking and backward-looking laager of nativists and anti-trade protectionists.

Overlapping with this group in Congress is another small cluster of demagogues who see advantage in internecine warfare over differences in legislative tactics. These have used their public platforms to convince Republican voters that the Congress they elected has been acting as President Obama’s handmaiden. This is an absurd charge, even granting that the GOP conference under Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, could have done more to advance the conservative cause…

In Ryan, Republicans have the opportunity for a fresh start. His sincere reluctance to take the speaker’s gavel has a Platonic gravitas and humility to it. But he is the right man at the right moment. He is not pandering or making unrealistic promises, as power-hungry politicians often do. Rather, from principle and clear-sighted pragmatism, he is demanding the full commitment of those who would have him lead. This means Republicans would have to recommit to the legislative caucus system, under which party members retain their differences on issues, but elect and follow leaders specifically to make the decisions about legislative tactics. Ryan will serve, but he will not be served up as the next sacrificial lamb.


So why the objections to Ryan? For some of the most aggressive conservatives, it is a blend of fervent commitment to principle and believing that Paul Ryan is not ideologically pure enough along with a concern about a primary challenge from the right should they be seen as “compromising” with the “establishment.” Mostly I think the opposition is self-serving cynicism, and I say that as someone who — like Paul Ryan — agrees with the vast majority of the policy positions championed by the Freedom Caucus and other liberty-minded members of Congress.

The problem is that there is a much bigger risk than any one congressman’s career (not that this vote actually puts their jobs at risk).

A Republican Party in chaos would be a tremendous benefit to Democrats, risking the GOP majorities in the House and Senate and handing an enormous gift to Hillary Clinton, as we head into a 2016 election in which many Americans, to include every member of the Freedom Caucus, believe the future of the nation is at stake.

It is hard to imagine this country surviving another four years of anti-capitalist and fundamentally anti-American rule, but that is just what is facing us if rabble-rousing conservative members of the House give the liberal media bright ugly colors with which to paint Republicans as unfit to lead the nation.


Yet Ryan also went along with many of Bush’s decisions that inflamed limited government conservatives, such as his support for the Medicare prescription drug plan and Wall Street bailout…

Based purely on this, it would be easy to portray him as just another Republican who came to Washington and got corrupted. Voting for the massive Wall Street bailout and for the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society is difficult to swallow from a limited government perspective. But defining him merely by such votes wouldn’t be completely fair either.

After President Obama took office, when many Republicans were opposing Obama and his agenda in a mindless way, Ryan was able to able to make detailed, fact-based critiques of the administration’s policies, calmly but devastatingly annihilating Obama’s deficit skullduggery and dubious healthcare claims…

When I spoke to Ryan ahead of the 2014 election, he chastised the “play it safe” attitude of Republicans who smelled victory and instead pushed for Republicans to offer bold ideas. “This idea of running as a referendum, assuming a wave, assuming you’ve got the wind at your back, assuming with an unpopular president we therefore by default will win, I don’t buy that,” Ryan told me. “I think you’ve got to give people a reason to vote for you.”


[Ryan is] the most active and committed supporter of amnesty and increased immigration who is anywhere near leadership. As a recent Frontline documentary showed, Ryan was instrumental in almost getting an amnesty/immigration-surge bill passed last year. In fact, I didn’t appreciate how close Ryan came to passing a version of the Schumer-Rubio Gang of Eight bill through the House in 2014. The filmmakers, who followed Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) and others for all of last year, reported that Dave Brat’s defeat of Cantor, coming at the same time as the illegal-alien surge across the border in South Texas, killed a deal that was already done, with the needed Republican votes already pledged. As the narrator said, “That pretty much finished off chances for an immigration bill. And only a couple of dozen people knew how close it had come.”…

The federal immigration program currently admits about 1 million people from abroad each year who are big-government liberals by a ratio of roughly two to one. Immigrants are disproportionately supportive of activist government, higher taxes, Obamacare, gun control, affirmative action, and environmental regulation, and not notably conservative on social issues. Increased immigration leads to a steady shift in votes to the Democrats, even in Texas. And a Republican candidate’s views on immigration have no effect on this trend…

If Ryan returns as speaker in the 115th Congress, it is a certainty that he will craft yet another iteration of the McCain-Kennedy/Schumer-Rubio approach to immigration. And he’ll have an ally in the Senate majority leader, whether Schumer or McConnell, and in the White House, if either Hillary or Rubio are elected.

Ryan’s election as speaker would be a victory for the Republican donor class in its relentless struggle against Republican voters.


The most bitter opponents of Ryan are motivated almost solely by the issue of immigration reform — but the Freedom Caucus has a lot of members who are (or have been) open to some type of reform (which makes sense, considering the libertarian framing of the name “Freedom Caucus”)…

In a joint 2013 letter written to Sen. Rand Paul, signed by Reps. Mick Mulvaney, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Jeff Duncan, and Mark Meadows, the group advocated “expanding legal immigration” and finding a way to “reasonably address the reportedly 11 million people who came here knowingly and illegally…”

Rep. Daniel Webster, the original Freedom Caucus candidate for Speaker, has advocated immigration reform (so long as it comes after the border is secured). Consider his quote in this 2013 article from the AP: “‘I think as a country we need to do something,’ Webster said in an interview, echoing the rhetoric of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and other prominent Republicans. ‘Doing nothing is amnesty.’”…

Even Jim Jordan, who heads the caucus, and Mark Meadows, who filed the original “motion to vacate the chair,” have implied they want immigration reform.


Ryan has been a rare “Dependable,” just like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who folded his speaker bid after the House Freedom Caucus opposed him. He’s one of only 51 members (21 percent of the conference) who have voted with leadership all five times, including on the continuing resolution last month that kept the government open, despite the conservative push to shut it down over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The 36 “Rebels” and “Agitators,” who overlap almost perfectly with the membership of the House Freedom Caucus, hold a fundamentally different perspective: 72 percent were elected after President George W. Bush left office, and most won their primaries by running against not only President Obama, but also the Bush-era bailouts and the GOP “status quo” of tax and spend. They almost all hail from safe GOP seats…

For now, Ryan may look like a valiant hero in Republicans’ hour of need, and he should win over just enough of the House Freedom Caucus to become speaker. But if he assumes responsibility to govern, his record will begin to take on more importance than his star résumé, and the harsh realities of House politics will force him to leave at least some admirers disappointed.


On the one hand, Ryan’s combination of ideological zeal, policy creativity, pragmatism, and salesmanship make him very attractive as a speaker. But conservatives may be right to be wary.

The total record suggests that Ryan’s conservatism becomes purer and more idealistic only when the ability to implement policy drops to zero, i.e. under a Democratic administration, or when stuffing Christmas stockings to interns. When a Republican is in the White House, Ryan is suddenly more aware of the political costs of uncompromising principle. Ryan puts the ideas out there and gets credit for seriousness, even if it does some damage to his party’s reputation. But when the rubber hits the road, Ryan’s the rubber stamp in the hands of a compromised Republican administration.

And the speaker’s job is difficult beyond that. Boehner was a hard worker on behalf of the conference and a good fund-raiser. Ryan’s conditions include an exemption from fund-raising, which means he is demanding a pledge of fealty to him while intending to do none of the grunt work. Instead of keeping the party united through sheer effort, Ryan seems to wish to achieve this by sheer high regard.

But demanding trust is a funny way to earn it. Ryan should tread carefully. He poses as being all things to all men. He is a policy nerd for the wonks, a calculating realist for the pollsters, and an idealist for the right wing. But in Washington, to be one man’s friend is to declare yourself the enemy of another. Being everyone’s friend at once is even more dangerous for a speaker.


Ryan is essentially asking conservatives within the GOP: What is your actual goal? Is it to govern in the public interest according to a conservative vision while building a political coalition capable of supporting needed reforms? Or is it the expression of outrage, rooted in a right-wing populism that is in fundamental (and continual) revolt against the political establishment?

This has been the main question posed to Republicans since the wave election of 2010: governing or rage? The fault line is clearest in the choice of political enemies. For some conservatives, the politically ascendant and intellectually exhausted liberalism of the Obama era is the target. For others, the real enemy is a Republican establishment complicit in a corrupt political order — a GOP establishment that “reflexively surrenders on every issue” (in the words of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)) and must be razed before anything good can grow…

The movement that stands to lose the most is conservatism. Maybe the GOP’s back to the future is 1964, when Republican primary voters chose the candidate of outrage, Barry Goldwater, who promised “extremism in the defense of liberty.” The anti-Goldwater landslide entrenched the Great Society in American life. A right-wing populist who loses the 2016 election in a landslide would entrench Obamacare and the rest of President Obama’s legacy.


Ryan’s election as speaker would be the culmination of a long journey not only for him but also for his party. This journey began when he embraced the so-called third rail of American politics—reform of Social Security and Medicare—and refashioned it into the GOP platform.

What have we learned along the way? Tackling entitlements needn’t be political suicide. Republicans needn’t dismiss the subject of poverty. Compassion, civil society—these are categories that should influence our thinking. Ideas, even controversial ones, are not hindrances in politics but boosters. They propel you to the top.

We have learned that the Republican Party is in demographic transition. John Boehner is 65. Paul Ryan is 45. Marco Rubio is 44—but, he likes to say, he feels 45. Ted Cruz is 44, Cory Gardner is 41, Tom Cotton is 38, Elise Stefanik 31. Liberals are terrified of what these young conservatives might accomplish.

Liberals should be. We’re approaching the end of phase one of the Ryan Revolution. Phase two? That’s where it gets interesting.



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