A farm bill that had the votes to pass is on ice for a month.
The conservatives who tanked that bill are demanding (and will get) a vote on an immigration proposal that doesn’t have the support to pass.
Moderates are on the verge of bucking leadership entirely to get votes on their own immigration proposals, which likely can pass, but have no path into law.
The President’s spending cut plan has run into technical (and policy) problems and has been pushed back.
It’s been a rough week or so for House Republicans.
Bottom line: The House Republican conference has always been, to put it kindly, unruly, but the midterms and an unstable leadership scenario has significantly magnified things – and that has led to grumbling that outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan may need to depart sooner than he planned.
That grumbling is far from reaching critical mass, or any type of actionable moment and senior aides predict it likely won’t. But weeks like the last one only serve to exacerbate the distrust and displeasure that is lingering.
The reality: Ryan is a lame duck, but he is not in danger of being pushed out, according to several senior aides and lawmakers enmeshed in the current dynamics – at least at the moment.
Is Ryan weakened?
The modern Republican conference has always been its own unique brand of mess. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has always been capable of taking down legislation. Immigration has always been the issue that has torn its members to shreds. Heck, a farm bill has even been taken down before (in 2013).
The reality is this: as it currently stands, aides and lawmakers say 218 votes for any new speaker don’t exist, and as such, Ryan’s stated goal to “run through the tape” in his final year of office isn’t going to change any time soon. Entering a speaker’s race at this stage in a midterm year would plunge the conference into a nastier (and more dysfunctional) place than it is even in right now.
And while a few top donors have made no secret of their displeasure with Ryan’s decision to announce his retirement so early in the year, his operation, including his aligned super PAC, remains the unmatched fundraising gorilla in the room that every vulnerable House GOPer needs in their corner.
Don’t forget: While Ryan may not be able to twist arms like he could before he announced his departure (though lawmakers will tell you that was never really his method when he needed a tough vote), there’s a real benefit for the next GOP leader to have him atop the conference in the months ahead. Why? Combine the looming nasty immigration fight with a brutal spending fight, and there’s some merit to having someone not gunning for a future leadership position out front to take the inevitable hits from the base (and likely the President).
The risk at this moment: A narrative setting in that Ryan is flailing and the conference is in trouble precisely because of that fact. Again, it’s not really the reality, but that doesn’t always win the day. Should rank-and-file members start to believe that things are so bad that only a divisive leadership race can change the direction, then all of the sudden that becomes the new reality. Things can and do shift quickly in the House, which could spell real trouble for Ryan. And that is precisely why you can expect Ryan, and possibly his leadership team, to make strong statements about keeping the status quo Tuesday.
The leadership dynamics
It’s been described, at least on the staff level, as somewhat uncomfortable but “workable” at the moment. Between Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, who is waiting in the wings of McCarthy can’t muster the conference support for the top job, everyone is keenly aware of what’s happening, even if nobody will say it out loud.
On the member level, aides say things are progressing mostly as normal. It can shift, but to this point, hasn’t in a major way.
“We all know the deal,” one GOP aide said of the leadership race dynamic. “We can all act like it doesn’t exist, but it does, so there’s always a little bit of awkwardness.”
The midterm dynamics
To state the obvious, this is a huge aspect of what’s happening right now. This explains a good portion of the moderates pushing for action on immigration. It explains at least a piece of McCarthy’s strident opposition to taking up the debate. Above all of it, the looming election has served as an accelerant to the distrust that exists in the conference on the issue.
“November amplifies a lot of the negative that sits inside the conference,” one GOP lawmaker told me. “When people are trying to save themselves, or the majority, the internal goodwill isn’t exactly always in huge supply.”
The Mulvaney hypothetical
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney continued the Trump administration penchant for saying the quiet things out loud, saying at a Weekly Standard conference over the weekend that he’d discussed McCarthy succeeding Ryan this year “privately but not as much publicly.”
His rationale? It would force Democrats into tough vote for Pelosi in the weeks leading up to a midterm (the entire House votes for speaker, not just the majority.)
Beyond the bad position this put McCarthy in (he and Mulvaney are close and dine together pretty regularly when schedules align; see McCarthy’s denial of the conversation here from CNN’s Tal Kopan), the bigger issue may be how strategically unsound the idea would be in practice.
The vast majority of Democrats who have wavered on Pelosi as leader are not currently in Congress, but running as challengers, so they wouldn’t have to vote. The Democrats who are in the House have, for the most part, already voted for Pelosi (in January), and would have no problem doing it again.
Oh, and the group that voted against Pelosi in January (plus new member Conor Lamb), could do so once again and go home and talk about it in their races.
So it’s not clear what Mulvaney is thinking here. For what it’s worth, his spokeswoman told CNN’s Liz Landers his comments were “purely hypothetical.”
What it means for immigration
At the moment, Ryan and McCarthy aren’t as far apart on this as some may think – neither, at least at this point, thinks A. the immigration debate right now is a good idea and B. that there’s an actual solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that can get the President’s signature (though Ryan was later to coming the latter realization than many).
The goal, aides and lawmakers say, is to structure an immigration debate and vote the third week of June that gives conservatives their vote on the conservative immigration proposal they’ve been pushing for months, but also gives moderates an adequate shot at their votes. The structure of that – and whether it will actually fly, remains TBD.
Will these talks push off the discharge petition? As of last week, it was possible. Now, as CNN’s Kopan and Lauren Fox note in the stories, it seems unlikely. So keep an eye on votes the next few days.
Of note: longer term on DACA, aides say Ryan and McCarthy diverge on what a final proposal may look like (Ryan’s model of a bill that can get a handful of Democrats would likely shed the far right of the GOP conference, something McCarthy isn’t interested in at the moment).
Your current immigration bottom line: Whatever the House does in June on immigration has no path into law. Senate won’t touch it, White House wants no part of it. Aides say the only real shot to address DACA will come after the Supreme Court weighs in.
What it means for the farm bill
The House GOP farm bill was never going to become law. But it does serve as a crucial marker – particularly the conservative overhaul tightening work requirements on the food stamp program – for future negotiations with the Senate, which will be considering a very different (and bipartisan) measure. It is now slated for floor consideration after the immigration proposal(s) the week of June 18. Again, it has the support to pass along partisan lines – so long as immigration is dealt.