NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

House Conservatives Say They Will Challenge Speaker Ryan On Any Broad Immigration Plan


All this week, senators are debating whether they can reach a compromise on immigration, especially for people who are in the country illegally who were brought here as children. On the other side of Congress, the issue is setting up a test of House Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership. Some conservatives are still angry at Ryan over last week's passage of a two-year budget deal. They say that deal broke the GOP's promises to voters on fiscal responsibility. Now these same conservatives say if Republicans break their campaign promises again on immigration, there will be consequences. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports on what's at stake for the speaker.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: At a meeting with reporters today, North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows was not in the mood to be coy.


MARK MEADOWS: I'm in one of those moods where I'm going to answer your questions directly.

DAVIS: The question is whether conservatives trust the speaker to bring an immigration bill to the House floor that reflects the immigration promises Donald Trump made on the campaign trail.


MEADOWS: It is the defining moment for this speaker. If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him, but it will also have consequences for the rest of the Republican Party.

DAVIS: Meadows chairs the Freedom Caucus, a band of uncompromising conservatives who played a leading role in forcing Speaker John Boehner's decision to step down and retire early. For his part, Ryan told reporters last week he doesn't lose any sleep about what's at stake for his own personal fortunes in this immigration debate.


PAUL RYAN: It doesn't. It doesn't, not at all. I don't think about it at all.

DAVIS: Maybe he should. Conservatives made it clear today that they're watching what happens with immigration not only as a test of their ideas but as a test of faith in Ryan's leadership. Ohio Republican Warren Davidson spoke to conservatives concerned that party leaders are quietly plotting to pass a bill on the strength of Democratic votes that delivers more Democratic policy victories.


WARREN DAVIDSON: On immigration, you really just need a Democrat bill with 30 Republicans to pass something. That's not what we promised America we were going to do.

DAVIS: If their fears are realized, Pennsylvania's Scott Perry says some House Republicans may consider it time for a leadership shakeup.


SCOTT PERRY: If the fix is in on something like this, it's going to be really, really problematic and, as Mark said, not just for our party and certainly for Americans but really for the people that are making big decisions around this place.

DAVIS: Ryan's current management problem on immigration is compounded by last week's two-year spending deal. It included $300 billion in new spending that many conservatives say violated promises made when they won control of the House in 2010. But the vast majority of Republicans voted with leadership in support of last week's deal, a factor Ryan's allies point to when asked about conservative angst. But 67 Republicans opposed it. Ohio's Jim Jordan was one of them. He said the vote shook his confidence in Ryan's long-stated commitment to the conservative cause.


JIM JORDAN: Just a few years ago, Speaker Ryan was viewed as the individual in our party, in our country who was focused on fiscal responsibility. And then you saw what happened last week.

DAVIS: Ryan has always had a more moderate view on immigration than those in the Freedom Caucus, but conservatives like Meadows say its President Trump's immigration views that won in 2016.


MEADOWS: This president was elected largely on an immigration issue that defined him differently than every other candidate. And so it is the defining moment more so than the budget or anything else that we've passed.

DAVIS: It's still unclear if the House will even take up an immigration bill. If the Senate can't pass anything, the speaker isn't going to force an ugly vote. For conservatives, no deal might be the best deal. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.