House Freedom Caucus leaders fired off fresh warning shots Wednesday to Speaker Paul D. Ryan that there will be repercussions if he moves an immigration measure that runs contrary to what President Donald Trump and conservative Republicans campaigned on in 2016.
“It is the defining moment for this speaker,” HFC Chairman Mark Meadows said. “If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him, but it will also have consequences for the rest of the party.”
Meadows did not elaborate on what those consequences would be, but some of his caucus members have been clear for months that Ryan striking a bad deal on immigration would potentially be a deathly blow to his speakership.
“If he wants to remain speaker of the House, he needs to be very careful with that,” Idaho Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, said last week as Democrats tried to pressure Ryan into committing to a vote on a bipartisan immigration bill.
Immigration has been a contentious issue within the House Republican Conference long before Trump was elected and decided to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
In 2013, the House ignored a comprehensive immigration overhaul that passed the Senate and said their conference wanted to take a piecemeal approach to addressing the issue, but they never acted.
Ryan won conservative backing for his speaker bid in 2015 on a promise that he would not bring an immigration bill to the floor unless it has support from a majority of House Republicans. While the speaker has stuck to that promise so far and made assurances he will continue to do so, that has not quelled conservatives’ concerns about how he will handle the DACA issue.
“My concern is just a few years ago Speaker Ryan was viewed as the, the individual in our party, in our country who was focused on fiscal responsibility, and then you saw what happened last week,” Rep. Jim Jordan said, referring to a budget deal Congress passed that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would add $320 billion to the deficit.
“And as we now move into this critical time on the immigration debate, we know that Speaker Ryan probably doesn’t share the same position that the folks up here on this dais do as evidenced by where he was a few years ago on the Gang of 8 bill,” the Ohio Republican added, referring to other conservatives addressing press questions from a dais in a committee hearing room.
Jordan and Meadows both used the word “reluctance” in describing GOP leaders’ effort to whip support for a conservative immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte that they favor.
“The reluctance that we’re seeing is because we know that there are competing agendas,” Meadows said, noting that most other proposals Republicans are pushing are not what President Donald Trump and the party campaigned on.
“We need to go ahead and pass a bill that reflects what we promised the American people out of the House,” the North Carolina Republican added. “We are the ones that are closest to the American population, and if we are not the ones who can set that debate than who will.”
Jordan was more visibly frustrated by leadership not trying to work the votes.
“For goodness sake. We’d just like to see the same intensity on this piece of legislation … that we’ve seen on other issues,” he said.
Leadership’s reason for not having brought the Goodlatte bill to the floor since its introduction several weeks ago is that there are not 218 votes for it, Meadows said.
In that case, he said, “I guess we all go home because there’s not 218 votes for much of anything that has a partisan flavor to it.”