Conservatives in the House of Representatives are vowing to torpedo their one-time hero, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is mulling going for the speaker post, over the one issue they accuse him of being too liberal on — immigration.
Ryan was a force behind GOP budgets that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “broke new ground in defining Republicans as the party of small government.”
It called for dramatic changes in spending, as well as Medicaid and Medicare.
While that helped him get crowned as a true conservative years ago, an increasingly vocal faction in the House that favors strict immigration measures is casting Ryan as a liberal loose canon on one of the most divisive issues in Congress.
Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who is a leading hardline voice on immigration, said to Politico that there would be a “major intraparty battle over immigration if Paul comes forward” to succeed House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, who has resigned amid mounting opposition to his leadership from his chamber’s most conservative faction.
“A majority of the conference is on my side of this argument,” King added.
Ryan’s moderate views on immigration date back to at least the early 1990s, when he opposed a restrictive California immigration ballot. He played a key role behind the scenes in trying to build support in his party for a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would tighten border security and provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
The King faction of the House is adamantly opposed to providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, or providing any breaks to them. They argue that such moves amount to amnesty, and rewarding lawbreakers.
In 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform measure, but that effort failed to gain traction in the House.
Ryan had under-the-radar meetings with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat who played a pivotal role in the upper chamber’s bipartisan reform bill, in the hopes of doing what he could to see a similar effort advance in the House, according to Politico.
“He thought it was in the economic interest of America” to pass immigration reform, Politico quoted an unidentified person as saying.
Ryan is being mentioned as a possible successor to Boehner only because many Republicans in the House like him, and believe he can get enough support from different factions in the chamber to be chosen as speaker as well as build consensus on legislative proposals.
For his part, Ryan is said to be a reluctant candidate.
Reportedly, he had said to some fellow members of Congress that he didn’t envy the job the Boehner had.
King says he favors Rep. Daniel Webster, of Florida, to be the new speaker.
Rep. Mo Brooks told reporters that Ryan would have to commit not to push comprehensive immigration reform before he would have a prayer at being a serious contender for speaker.
Politico noted that conservative talk show hosts also have gotten onto the anti-Ryan bandwagon. Conservative talk show host Mark Levin tweeted: “NOT SO FAST! Paul Ryan an amnesty advocate, along with his buddy Luis Gutierrez.”
Immigration, Politico said, actually is not the only area where Ryan has acted a bit too moderately for his conservative brethren.
He supported a budget deal that increased some spending, and voted in favor of the $700 billion bank bailout at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
But while those give conservatives pause, the real deal-breaker is his immigration stance, which he has been willing to defend before his GOP colleagues.
“He has always worked for the crony capitalists on immigration,” said Roy Beck, the president of Numbers USA, which works to limit immigration into the United States. “He was a young guy [during the 1990s fight]. But that was the ideology he learned.”
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