Freedom Caucus Gives Paul Ryan a Big Majority—but Not a Mandate

A "supermajority" of the conservative group's members will support Ryan for speaker. It's enough that he'll move forward with his bid.

Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Rep. Paul Ryan made significant inroads with House conservatives after a day of meetings and assurances, yet that may still not be enough to garner the unanimous support he demands as a condition to running for speaker.

At a private meeting Wednesday evening, about two-thirds of the conservative House Freedom Caucus voted to support Ryan for speaker. But the conference fell short of the 80 percent necessary to officially endorse him.

“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 within our Conference in due time,” read a statement released by the group Wednesday evening. “We all know that Washington needs to change the way it does business, and we look forward to working with Paul and all our colleagues to enact process reforms that empower individual representatives and restore respect to our institution.”

Ryan has said he will not run unless all of the conference’s most influential caucuses endorse him. But after the meeting, he indicated he would move forward with his candidacy for the job.

“I’m grateful for the support of a supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus," Ryan said in a statement. "I look forward to hearing from the other two caucuses by the end of the week, but I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team.”

Although Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan and others such as Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Mark Sanford have been trying to convince their colleagues to support Ryan, the group still has several holdouts who continue to back Rep. Daniel Webster. Fellow Floridians Reps. Curt Clawson and Bill Posey, for instance, do not want to turn their backs on their home-state member, who the Freedom Caucus already endorsed. Others, such as Reps. Tim Huelskamp and Paul Gosar, believe that Webster gives the conference’s their best chance at upending what they see at a top-heavy power structure, according to members in the meeting.

That comes despite assurances Ryan made at a private confab with the Freedom Caucus just before the group met to vote. Ryan said he would support a rules-reform package that could include changes to how committee chairmen are chosen and how legislation comes to the floor. He also said he would not bring up a comprehensive immigration bill, but would work toward a tax-reform package as well as a replacement for President Obama’s health care law.

Still, Ryan has made explicitly clear he will not serve in a divided House. “I don’t mean to be egotistical,” Ryan told the conference at the meeting, explaining that for him to give up his dream job as Ways and Means chairman for a speakership he does not want, he would need to do so on his terms. Those include unanimous support, buy-in to his policy ideas from the conference, a promise to not try to remove him as speaker, and ample free time to spend with his family.

Still, to some in the party, Ryan’s demands came off as arrogant. One Republican congressman said Democrats joked with him on the floor that they’ll conduct their next campaign in the same way: As a condition to running, they would demand a unanimous election from constituents, fealty to their governing vision, and the removal any chance of a recall—“and oh, by the way, I don’t work weekends,” he added.

Also at issue is Ryan’s call to shelve the motion to vacate, which allows any members to force a vote to recall the speaker. Rep. Mark Meadows brought a motion up earlier this year and it is credited with forcing Speaker John Boehner to resign. Ryan told members that he does not want to govern in an environment where he could be overthrown so easily. But members do not feel comfortable scrubbing the centuries-old procedure from the rule book.

As a compromise, Meadows said he could be amenable to a promise not to bring up such a motion for a certain time period. “I’m willing to say that there would be no motion that we brought up for a new speaker for the rest of this Congress,” Meadows said. “To give this new speaker, whoever it may be, the rest of the 114th Congress, I think is a reasonable thing.”

Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, said he personally endorsed Ryan, but that did not mean that the Freedom Caucus had settled on meeting Ryan’s own demands.

“We have had a very serious discussion on Paul Ryan. A supermajority of us support his bid to be the next speaker, and we hope that we can make him successful as speaker,” Amash said. “There is no consensus from our members on any of his preconditions.”

Freedom Caucus Members said Ryan’s pitch to them Wednesday afternoon had made a difference as it became clear Ryan was on their side when it came to making the legislative process more inclusive. In the end, that pitch won over many.

“He outlined things he would do differently than the current speaker, Speaker Boehner, and even vented some of his frustration,” Rep. John Fleming said, although he would not say whether he was supporting Ryan. “Amassing a lot of power and control is probably not his real interest and that is actually attractive to us because we don’t want a hyper-powerful speaker.”

Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, said he’d known Ryan for a long time and this close to a presidential election, it was time for the Freedom Caucus to rally around one leader.

“He’s a man of great capability,  and I think he understands the gravity of the next election and it is my belief that he has both the acumen and the principles to help create and articulate a message that will help us prevail in the next presidential election.”

This article has been updated.