The rumor has been flying for about 24 hours, and in the last couple of hours, Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed it: he’s running for Speaker of the House.
On Tuesday, Ryan was still seeking assurances that he’d be able to lead a unified coalition of Republicans — and that he wouldn’t have to see his life get out of balance with the burdens of the House’s top leadership post. He also wanted a guarantee that the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative caucus comprising mostly members linked to the Tea Party movement, wouldn’t try to oust him before the current Congress’s term ends in January 2017.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that a “supermajority” of the Freedom Caucus had made the commitments Ryan was seeking, as his conditions for running.
Something that that suggests to me is that Ryan won’t try to get compromise legislation passed on illegal-immigration amnesty before the current Congress ends. Breitbart has been keeping Ryan’s political friendship with amnesty advocates like (mainly) Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) front and center over the last couple of weeks (see here and here as well), and constituents of the Freedom Caucus are no doubt galvanized on that topic. The support of the Freedom Caucus is sure to be conditional on Ryan keeping his head down on illegal immigration, and not trying to force through something the Freedom Caucus won’t back. (Or others, in fact. On amnesty, the Freedom Caucus is far from alone.)
Ryan could double-cross the Freedom Caucus. But if he does, the Freedom Caucus’s promises will be null and void. That would be the nature of a likely agreement.
The Freedom Caucus already knows that its ability to stop things like raising the debt limit is, well, limited. A GOP leader can get that done without the Freedom Caucus, because Democrats will vote to do it. What the Freedom Caucus can realistically prevent is the passage of major, controversial legislation. An amnesty package would top the list in that regard.
I suspect Ryan wants as quiet a term as he can get in the Speaker’s chair. That’s not just because of the work-family balance he has insisted on. It’s also because he wants to have a future in politics, and doesn’t want a stint as Speaker to blow his political reputation to smithereens. I’m hopeful that he won’t try to get too much done.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that it wouldn’t matter how the issue of the Speakership was adjusted. That assessment still stands. Paul Ryan isn’t saving anyone’s bacon by making it possible for Republicans to agree to keep a terrible government going down its current path.
That said, there is no method of changing our course anyway, if we accept the constraint of keeping the president we have. With Ryan as the Speaker, I assume we’ll be accepting that constraint. The brief blip of interest over Ryan aside, Congress will be largely inert and in a caretaker role between now and January 2017. It would be largely inert and in a caretaker role no matter what was done about the Speaker of the House. We are where we are.