HFC members gave Ryan several examples of retaliation in the meeting. He expressed surprise at some of the stories, such as word that the National Republican Congressional Committee has been denying campaign funding to Representative Rod Blum (R., Iowa) in response to his votes against leadership. “He seemed flabbergasted by that,” one HFC member says. Ryan assured the HFC that he hadn’t been privy to most of the outgoing regime’s decisions to punish members, and expressed a desire to do things differently going forward. “He kept saying ‘I want to start with a clean slate for everybody,’” says a second HFC member. “And I think that really is what he wants to do and put all this nitpicking behind us.”

The discussion of retribution had the potential to damage Ryan. As Budget Committee chairman in 2012, he was responsible for having Huelskamp and Representative Justin Amash (R., Mich.) — both members of the Freedom Caucus — kicked off the panel. In the meeting Wednesday, a “very animated” Huelskamp accused Ryan of punishing him for casting a principled vote against Ryan’s budget. Ryan, who signaled a willingness to have Huelskamp restored to the Agriculture Committee from which he’d also been removed, argued successfully that there were extraordinary reasons for his ouster from the budget panel. “You don’t really want to go into it in front of everybody,” Ryan warned, according to the first HFC member.

As the conversation unfolded, according to several HFC members, Ryan persuaded the caucus that Huelskamp had earned his punishment. “Ryan said, ‘Listen, you were sending letters to your district that were criticizing me about the budget and how “the chairman had broken his promise” and things like that,’” a third HFC member recalls. “‘If you want to talk about something within the committee, that’s great, but if you’re going to go out to your district and say those things, I think that’s wrong.’”