Paul Ryan’s Conditions for Speakership

“I believe that the ideas and principles of results-driven, common-sense conservatism are the keys to a better tomorrow.”  — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Rep. Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan

The GOP’s scramble to find a “unifying” figure to nominate for Speaker of the House might be coming to a close, though certainly not everyone is on board. The very smart, influential, and (mostly) respected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has reluctantly agreed to run for the post, despite his earlier, multiple statements that he would not run, because he just wasn’t interested. Whether or not that was a ploy, a strategy of playing hard-to-get until such time as the desperate(?) House GOP would give in to his demands, is hard to tell. But, that is in effect what seems to have happened (see below). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has bowed out of the race and given Ryan his support, but Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) is remaining in it.

Though I am tempted to get into the issue of the potential pros & cons of a Ryan speakership, I wanted to focus on the conditions he set forth. When Ryan agreed to run last Tuesday (10/20), he said it was contingent upon his fellow Republicans agreeing to a list of requirements, which they had until Friday (10/23) to decide on. Ryan explained:

“What I told the members is, if you can agree to these requests, and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve. And, if I am not unifying, that is fine as well. I will be happy to stay where I am, at the Ways and Means Committee.”

Whether you consider them mere requests, conditions, or demands, here is what they entail:

Vision: “[W]e need to move from being an opposition party to a proposition party. Because we think the nation is on the wrong path, we have a duty to show the right one. Our next speaker needs to be a visionary one.”

I don’t think anyone on the Right has a problem with this. Opposition is often necessary, but the perception of many is that the Republicans are the “party of ‘No'”. A positive vision, communicated and carried out with proposals of well-constructed, conservative solutions, will not only change that public perception but help put the nation back on the right path.

Unity: “[W]e, as a conference, should unify now, and not after a divisive speaker election.”

A unified Republican conference must include buy-in not only from the very conservative House Freedom Caucus and the generally conservative Republican Study Committee, but also from the moderate Tuesday Group. When it comes to supporting Ryan’s bid, it was the first one that caused the most concern. Indeed, some members indicated that the caucus was sticking with Daniel Webster. However, after meeting with Ryan earlier, the HFC voted Wednesday night (10/21) and a supermajority (roughly 70%) gave him the thumbs-up. (Not enough for an official endorsement, mind you. Those who did not approve will not have to vote for him on 10/28; in fact, even those who gave their approval may change their mind(s).) This should be more than enough to give him the requisite 218 votes to become Speaker.

“While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan’s preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved in time.”

I have more so say on this, but it is integrally linked to the next “demand”, so I’ll wait to address it below.

Rule Changes: “[W]e need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative. This is, after all, the people’s house. But we need to do it as a team. And it needs to include fixes that ensure we don’t experience constant leadership challenges and crisis.”

obamacongressAt first glance, this sounds eminently reasonable. But, the details behind it are causing a lot of concern, especially among some in the Freedom Caucus, their supporters, and anyone concerned with checks & balances to prevent abuse of power. The key issue is changes Ryan wants to the 200-year-old procedural rule known as a “motion to vacate the chair”, which allows any House member to move to have an out-of-control Speaker removed. Freedom Caucus members had used it to threaten Boehner, and Ryan doesn’t want to have that threat hanging over him every time he does something a certain faction might disagree with. I can understand this, but when he crafted the rule, Thomas Jefferson clearly intended it as a way to keep the Speaker accountable.

According to Guy Benson at Townhall.com,

“Ryan’s position on this matter is a bit murky; some HFC members say he’s called for the rule to be eliminated, whereas a Ryan spokesman says the Ways and Means Chairman is open to an approach that would prevent its abuse. Perhaps there’s a compromise in the offing that would preserve the dramatic check on a leader’s authority while limiting its over-use by a chronically dissatisfied minority.”

Frankly, I am rather surprised that so many Freedom Caucus members threw their support behind Ryan, given his infamous backing of such things as TARP, No Child Left Behind, Obamatrade, amnesty bills, etc. Plus, there’s that whole “motion to vacate the chair” thing. On the other hand, according to Breitbart, Ryan did promise a return to “regular order”, changes to the steering committee that decides committee assignments centralizing power in the Speaker’s office, more “regional representation” rather than representation centralized in the Speaker’s office, and an end to retaliation against Republican members who vote their conscience, among other things, so many of their own concerns were addressed. However, many remain very skeptical. As with any politician, we won’t know how well Ryan keeps those promises unless & until he gets into office.

Family Time: “I cannot and will not give up my family time. I may not be able to be on the road as much as previous speakers, but I pledged to make up for it with more time communicating our message.”

Apparently, when not doing his regular Speaker-ly duties in D.C., Boehner spent a lot of time traveling and fundraising for the party. Ryan has three young children and does not want to sacrifice any more time away from them than he already does, since he only gets to see them on weekends and recesses. This request seems reasonable, and much of that can be delegated to other party members. It it notable that he recognizes the GOP’s communication problem and will dedicate more time to improving on it, which is at least as important a contribution. I also agree that, in most situations, family commitments and concerns should come first.

However, some are not quite so ready to grant him this request. Lt. Col. Allen West, for example, had this to say:

“Paul, let me advise you about the foolishness of that statement. Can you look into the eyes of any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman and say that to them? Leadership is about service, sacrifice, and commitment. Those of us through the history of this great Constitutional Republic have had to sacrifice our family time for something greater: the commitment to freedom and liberty for our fellow Americans. The position of Speaker of the House is second in line after the President, the Commander-in-Chief. I just have to ask you a simple question: would you forego a Thanksgiving with your family to serve a Thanksgiving meal to our deployed Warriors? I humbly ask you to apologize to the men and women who have their family lives interrupted so politicians can make such inane statements.”

As I have stated before, I was hoping for someone with a more consistently conservative record to be Speaker of the House. However, even the Freedom Caucus was ready to back a semi-moderate like Daniel Webster, because of his success at the state level and his complete agreement with their list of needed changes to House rules & procedures. Ryan is pretty solid and admirable in many areas, but not so much in others. He may indeed be the only viable candidate to bring some measure of unity to the GOP, so that it can be an effective force for pulling this nation back from the “progressive” brink. I just hope that the rest of the party doesn’t cede too much control and opportunity for reform, because they feel pressured to fill the Speaker’s chair, only to regret it later.

ADDENDUM (10/26/2015): Here are a couple relevant quotes from a new article at “The Daily Signal”

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, “You were going to demand all kinds of assurances from Ryan about changing House rules, almost none of which you got, so I guess the question is, why are you supporting Paul Ryan?”

“We do have a commitment from Paul to work on changing the rules, and we may get some of those changed before the vote this coming Wednesday and Thursday,” Jordan said. “So we think that’s a good step.”

Also,…

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) called Ryan’s request to change a House procedure known as “the motion to vacate the chair” a “non-starter.”

“I don’t see us changing that except to perhaps make it a more open process within our conference, so there are no surprises,” Meadows said. “Chairman Ryan is working with us to see how we can address that particular issue.”

“There’s more that we agree on than divides us,” Meadows added.

All I can say is that I hope their faith in Ryan is well-placed.

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