Ryan Urges Unity as Immigration Skirmish Reveals GOP Divisions

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan is urging fellow Republicans not to pursue a divisive leadership contest now, as some GOP members question whether the lame-duck speaker can keep his fractured conference together before the November elections.

Rebellions among House Republicans aren’t new, but now every act of defiance revives the issue of whether Ryan will finish the year as speaker or be forced to give up the gavel. He isn’t seeking re-election, retiring after a two-decade House career.

The current fight is over immigration as some moderate Republicans demand a vote on proposals to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from being deported. At the same time, conservative GOP members want an immediate vote on hard-line immigration limits, and they blocked a massive farm bill last week when they didn’t get it.

Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters Tuesday he recognizes that House Republicans are “frustrated with one another.” But he said that happens sometimes, and he pushed back on suggestions that his control of his conference is weakening.

“Our members realize that what we want to do is act on our agenda, improve people’s lives, and having a divisive leadership election at this time would prevent us from doing that,” Ryan said.

218 Votes

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, chosen by Ryan as his preferred successor, said news reports that he is seeking to force Ryan out aren’t true. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said nobody has the support needed from a majority of the House to become speaker.

"Nobody in this conference has 218 votes, and won’t have until January, except Ryan," Meadows said.

Recognizing the widening divisions in his conference, Ryan used Tuesday’s closed-door House GOP meeting to urge members to work together before the election, according to Jodey Arrington, a conservative from Texas. Historical trends suggest that Democrats have a strong chance of winning the House majority in November.

Moderate Republicans are rallying support for their petition to force a series of votes on several bipartisan proposals, including protection for the young immigrants. Seeking to avert these votes, House leaders plan a vote in the third week of June on a modified version of the hard-line immigration bill sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, according to Steve Scalise of Louisiana, head of the GOP vote-counting team.

‘Plenty of Time’

But that would require the more centrist Republicans to trust Ryan to include their policy priorities in any bills that reach the floor, and two of the petition’s organizers said Monday they haven’t been satisfied by offers from leadership.

"We’ve given leadership plenty of time,” said David Valadao, one of the California Republicans leading the petition. He said he expects a majority of House members to sign the petition this week -- enough to force a vote sometime after Congress returns from next week’s recess.

This possibility has enraged conservatives who say Ryan promised months ago that he would rally support for Goodlatte’s bill. Some members, especially those in the Freedom Caucus, have been incredulous that Ryan and his leadership team wouldn’t act more forcefully to stop the moderate Republicans’ proposals, which they criticize as "amnesty" for unlawful immigrants.

“If we run an amnesty bill out of a Republican House, all options are on the table,” said Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. “Leadership can stop this. The question is, will they? The answer will be very telling.”

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