Top members of the House Freedom Caucus will hold a rare, pre-election strategy session in Washington Wednesday to chart the group’s moves in November and beyond, sources familiar with the gathering told POLITICO.
One of the most pressing questions preoccupying Washington is what the group will do about Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican has said he intends to to seek another term as House speaker but has rankled members of the group of several dozen Republican lawmakers that drove John Boehner out of the speakership last year. The Freedom Caucus is also weighing proposals meant to empower its members, some at the expense of GOP leadership’s authority.
The full Republican conference is set to vote on the next speaker via secret-ballot the week after the election.
The Freedom Caucus meeting Wednesday has been kept secret by members, underscoring the sensitivity of its plans. A spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus did not respond to a request for comment
But a strategy session in Washington less than one week before Election Day is unusual, to say the least.
The group, led by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, has been a thorn in the side of leadership for some time, culminating in Boehner’s ouster. It has had a part in scuttling some of GOP leadership’s legislative plans. It was one of the groups that opposed pre-negotiated spending levels in the party’s budget, and pushed for a stricter adherence to House rules.
The group’s members have sent conflicting signals on whether they will support Ryan for another term as speaker. The Freedom Caucus knows it doesn’t have the votes to elect one of its own for speaker. But the group can block someone it doesn’t like.
Some of the group’s more prominent agitators have flirted privately with backing an outside candidate against Ryan. But other Freedom Caucus lawmakers seem uncomfortable with opposing Ryan, recognizing he’s tried to include the group in policy planning, even if those efforts fall short in the view of some members.
The Freedom Caucus has pressed to delay GOP leadership elections until after the lame-duck session of Congress. Sources say they want to first see how Ryan and other leaders handle year-end spending issues. While the caucus started discussing the matter in September, its members have yet to send a letter asking for the delay, and say they’re still gathering signatures.
GOP leaders are unlikely to push back the leadership elections if asked.
The Freedom Caucus is also mulling asking for changes to House rules that would empower rank-and-file lawmakers. They have major gripes with how the House operates, but have taken particular umbrage at GOP leadership’s tentative plan to scrap the so-called “motion to vacate.” That mechanism allows any member to force a referendum vote on the speaker and was used to prod Boehner into leaving midterm.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has suggested increasing the threshold for invoking the mechanism, instead of allowing a single lawmaker to do it. Some in Republican leadership welcome the change, saying it would give Ryan more freedom to maneuver without the threat hanging over his head. Others are skeptical, seeing it as a ploy to revoke a lever of power from rank-and-file members. Nunes is a Ryan ally and does not belong to the Freedom Caucus.
In another idea to empower its members, the Freedom Caucus has also said it wants to create a threshold so any bill with a certain number of sponsors would be guaranteed a floor vote. But Republican leaders argue they have an obligation to protect their more moderate members from tough votes.
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