GOP immigration showdown threatens Ryan’s job

 In Politics

Paul Ryan is struggling to stop an immigration showdown in the House, as his Republican conference devolves into an all-out war that could end up costing him his speakership.

The Wisconsin Republican pleaded with his conference Tuesday to come together after a tumultuous few days of infighting. The only way Republicans will keep their majority this fall is to work as a team, he argued, urging both wings of the party to compromise on a path forward.

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But that call to unity fell on deaf ears.

A group of moderates frustrated with the lack of action to protect Dreamers from deportation is expected to collect enough signatures to force bipartisan immigration votes in the coming days, according to lawmakers and aides tracking the effort. And conservatives who oppose those bills are threatening to hold Republican leaders — starting with Ryan — responsible if they don’t stop it.

“If we run an amnesty bill out of a Republican House, I think all options are on the table,” said Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told reporters when asked if Ryan could remain speaker if the so-called discharge petition succeeds.

“If leadership doesn’t stop it, they would be violating their own word, which was the Hastert rule, majority of the majority,” agreed Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), referring to an unofficial Republican policy of not holding votes on matters that aren’t backed by more than half of the conference.

Conservatives are so desperate to stop the discharge petition that they’re suggesting that Ryan strong-arm moderates to get them to back down — though they decried ex-Speaker John Boehner’s use of such tactics against them in the past. Leaders should consider revoking National Republican Congressional Committee financial help or other perks to keep moderates from forcing the issue, several have said. Such a move would be devastating for those centrists, many who hail from swing districts targeted by Democrats.

“I know when I voted against a rule, [leadership] threatened to take away all travel, they threatened to take away NRCC contributions,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “Most of those people who are on the discharge petition are very much closer to leadership than members of the Freedom Caucus, so I don’t see them” defying leadership.

One conservative lawmaker who was kicked off the whip team several years ago for defying leadership told Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) that they should remove moderates who support the discharge petition from the current whip team. GOP leaders said nothing in response, according to a lawmaker in the room.

“You’ve got people who are on the whip team who have signed the discharge petition and get the lion’s share of the NRCC money — and there is no repercussions for that,” the conservative lawmaker who asked not to be identified later told POLITICO. “They’re undermining the leadership’s ability to govern.”

That suggestion has irked some of the lawmakers who signed the petition. One of them, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), said the notion of punishing member who don’t fall in line with leadership “is exactly what [Freedom Caucus] complain about when somebody gets taken off of a committee” for bucking leaders.

“We don’t hold leadership responsible when we don’t like something the Freedom Caucus does,” Costello added.

The clash comes as Republicans face a daunting election this fall. A Democratic wave threatens to imperil their majority, yet the intra-party immigration squabble is almost certain to occupy the summer, distracting from the campaign message GOP hopefuls are looking to push.

Ryan also has found himself inside a pressure cooker, with a small faction of Republicans on the Hill and in the White House whispering that he should step down now rather than serve out his term as speaker. If the discharge petition succeeds, it would only further weakens Ryan’s hand.

That’s one of the reasons some Republicans who support the idea in theory have held back from signing the petition. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told POLITICO on Monday that he didn’t want to put Ryan in a bad situation so was unlikely to join his colleagues in forcing the issue.

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