WASHINGTON — A frustrated Speaker Paul Ryan chided House Republicans for election-season infighting over immigration that sank the party’s farm bill last week, participants in a closed-door meeting said Tuesday. Leaders said they will schedule a late- June showdown over immigration, an issue that has divided the GOP for years.
“I think he said ‘gee whiz’ and ‘gosh’ and used the word ‘crap’ once,” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said of Ryan’s remarks to his colleagues. “For Paul Ryan, ‘crap’ is pretty blue language.”
At a news conference minutes later, the Wisconsin Republican criticized anew an effort by GOP moderates to force votes on immigration by collecting signatures from a majority of House members on a little-used procedure called a discharge petition. The centrists need just five more GOP signatures to prevail.
“I can guarantee you a discharge petition will not make law,” Ryan said. That was a reference to the expectation that the votes moderates want to have would produce a bill that President Donald Trump would consider too weak and veto.
Ryan also defended himself against calls from conservatives that he step down as speaker in the wake of the party’s anarchy over the farm bill and continuing disarray on immigration. Ryan will retire from the House after this year but has said he will remain as speaker until he leaves office.
“Members drafted me into this job because of who I am and what I stand for,” he said. He was elected speaker in 2015 after conservatives pressured his predecessor, John Boehner, R-Ohio, to step aside.
Asked if he would remain as speaker all year, he said, “Obviously I serve at the pleasure of the members.” He said Republicans should concentrate on the party’s legislative agenda and not have “a divisive leadership election.”
Lawmakers exiting the GOP meeting said leaders told them the House would vote on immigration during the third week of June. They said it was unclear exactly what they would vote on.
The centrist push for immigration votes is considered likely to result in passage of a middle-ground measure backed by a handful of Republicans and all Democrats. Ryan has said he will avert that outcome, though it’s unclear how, and many conservatives consider it intolerable.
Conservative and moderate GOP leaders negotiated privately Monday over ways to win centrist support for a conservative-backed measure that for months has floundered short of the 218 Republican votes it would need for House passage. They discussed changes that would help young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and immigrant farm workers stay longer in the U.S., said one lawmaker who described the private discussions on condition of anonymity.
The conservative bill would currently reduce legal immigration, clear the way for construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico and let Dreamers stay in the U.S. for renewable three-year periods. All Democrats oppose the measure and it would have no chance of clearing the more moderate Senate.
The farm bill crashed last Friday, partly because of opposition by members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. They had refused a leadership offer for a vote on the conservative immigration bill in June, which they said was too late.
Some members of the Freedom Caucus suggested it would be time for Ryan to step down should moderates prevail.
“If we run an amnesty bill out of a Republican House, I think all options are on the table,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a member of the group, when asked if Ryan should remain as speaker if the moderates’ effort succeeds.
Many conservatives say legislation protecting immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation is amnesty.
Other Republicans said it seemed unlikely Ryan would abandon his post. They said potential successors including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., so far lack the GOP votes they’d need to win the job.
The moderates need 218 signatures — a House majority — on a petition to force votes on immigration bills.
With all 193 Democrats expected to sign, the moderates need five more than the 20 signatures they already have. If they succeed, a vote could occur no earlier than late June.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.