Paul Ryan Pushing Immigration Reform Behind The Scenes
Congressman Paul Ryan has apparently taken it upon himself to fulfill a role in the House similar to the one that Marco Rubio fulfilled in the Senate:
Two weeks after his vice-presidential bid ended, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) ran into an old friend, Rep. Luis Guitierrez (D-Ill.), and prodded him to restart his effort at comprehensive immigration legislation. His argument came from a religious and economic foundation.
“You’re a Catholic, I’m a Catholic, we cannot have a permanent underclass of Americans exploited in America,” Ryan told Guitierrez, according to the Democrat’s recollection of the November 2012 discussion.
Since then, Ryan has walked a fine line in supporting immigration legislation that many Republican Party elder statesmen believe is essential to revive the GOP’s chances in national campaigns, at the risk of short-term burn in its conservative base. Yet Ryan has not become the public face of the House’s immigration consideration.
The 43-year-old congressman, whose future remains bright enough that some pine for a presidential bid of his own, has prodded a small group of House negotiators searching for a bipartisan compromise. On Wednesday afternoon, advisers expect Ryan to again play that role at a special immigration meeting of the House Republican Conference, likely reiterating his support for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here.
Wednesday’s meeting will be behind closed doors, leaving Ryan’s imprint largely behind the scenes — just as it was eight months ago in that chance meeting with Guitierrez in the House gym. Ryan intends to support a bipartisan compromise but not become the lead advocate for any particular legislative idea, according to current and former advisers. He’s not part of the bipartisan House group on immigration, nor is he on the Judiciary Committee currently considering legislative proposals.
Dan Senor, who advised Ryan in 2012 and remains close to the lawmaker, said Ryan’s role will be different than that of another 40-something Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who became the highest-profile GOP supporter of the Senate’s legislation. Rubio helped craft the legislative language in bipartisan talks among eight senators, then aggressively sold the deal to skeptical conservative audiences in dozens and dozens of radio and TV appearances, sometimes several in a single day.
Senor, in a series of posts on his Twitter page Wednesday, said Ryan would make a “full throated” case for a comprehensive bill, not through a “million” media interviews, but by making the case directly to lawmakers.
Ryan’s standing among House conservatives remains as strong as ever.
“What he brings is experience and trust, he’s deeply trusted in our conference,” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a junior member of leadership and one of Ryan’s top acolytes on the Budget Committee.
Ryan’s own future is at a crossroads. His tenure on the Budget Committee ends next year, after receiving a one-time waiver to exceed the normal six-year limit as the top Republican on any committee. No one seems certain what he wants next. Some want a presidential bid, some view him as a logical successor to Boehner as speaker.
His fundraising schedule is now packed with events benefiting fellow House Republicans, not Lincoln Day dinners in key presidential primary battlegrounds to which other aspirants, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are flocking. That leaves many assuming he wants to stay in the House, with the gavel at the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee an increasingly likely prize.
Ryan brokered a pact earlier this year between the hard right portion of the caucus and leadership, setting up the ordering of agenda items and helping avert a potentially disastrous fight over the Treasury’s debt ceiling until later this year. It was a rare moment of getting his hands dirty in the deal-making process that Ryan has largely avoided.
Every move taken since has prompted scrutiny by GOP insiders trying to game out his future, and some view Ryan’s potential leadership on immigration as a game-changer that could sway some undecided Republicans to support a bill combining border security and citizenship.
As I noted earlier today that Marco Rubio has suffered in the polls among Republicans for being the public face of the Senate immigration bill. The fact that Ryan intends to work behind the scenes on the House side suggests that he hopes to avoid that same problem with the Republican base. However, depending on the content of the House bill, the fact that Ryan has a role behind the scenes has been well-known for some time, I have to wonder if that will actually work.