The House Freedom Caucus discussed in a private meeting Wednesday making a play for a slot in GOP leadership in return for backing Paul Ryan for another term as speaker, according to sources familiar with the plan.
Though the position would be likely be low in the leadership pecking order, it would be the first time a member of the group of hardliners became part of official party governance.
The House Republican Conference is set to hold secret-ballot internal leadership elections on Nov. 15, so the Freedom Caucus will have to organize quickly. The full House will hold a floor vote in January to elect the next speaker.
Caucus members discussed the plan Wednesday at a rare election-season meeting at Rep. Mark Meadows’ (R-N.C.) apartment in Washington.
Some caucus members group would like to remove Ryan as speaker but realize it’s a tall task. He has the support of the overwhelming majority of House Republicans. A leadership post would allow conservatives to press from the inside for changes to House rules that empower the rank-and-file.
The Freedom Caucus’s gambit could hinge on the results of the election next week. The more seats Republicans lose, the more powerful the Freedom Caucus could become, because its members would comprise a bigger share of a smaller conference.
But their power isn’t absolute. The 40-something caucus members could deny Ryan (R-Wis.) the 218 votes he needs to win another term as speaker. But they’d need outside support to elect one of their own to a leadership post.
Hence the talk of cutting a deal.
Reaching a pact with Ryan and his leadership team is bound to be complicated. Ryan has signaled he’s not going to negotiate for his job, and some have speculated he’d be willing to leave Congress if it came to that.
Caucus members have their eyes on a few potential leadership openings.
One attendee at Wednesday’s gathering said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the House Republican Conference secretary, might step down. GOP insiders say Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.) could also leave her post as conference vice chair.
Changing House and party rules to empower rank-and-file members is a top priority for the caucus. House GOP leadership sources said this week they’re preparing an overhaul some rules, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to assuage the group.
The Freedom Caucus members also discussed possibly asking leadership to allow committee members to choose their own chairmen. Traditionally, the GOP steering committee, made up of leadership and senior members representing various regions, picks chairs. Moving that selection process to committees would amount to a huge transfer of power from leadership — and therefore it’s unlikely to happen.
More broadly, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said the group discussed priorities and strategy for the lame duck session, but he wouldn’t provide specifics. Perry didn’t answer directly when asked if they discussed Ryan’s fate.
“Of course his name came up. He’s in the news everyday. He’s the speaker!” Perry said, as he left the meeting. Asked whether the Freedom Caucus as a whole would come out for or against Ryan’s reelection as speaker, he said it’s “way too early to determine.”
Perry said the group talked “a little bit” about a proposal to eliminate the legislative maneuver used to remove the speaker — called the “motion to vacate” — but said they would not be willing to enter into those negotiations. Ryan has indicated he wants to eliminate the mechanism.
Not all members of the Freedom Caucus were invited or even informed of the meeting, angering some in the group who felt left out of the fold.
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
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