October 27, 2015
National Review
Elaina Plott

Paul Ryan has signed off on a letter promising restless members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) that he won’t bring immigration-reform legislation to the House floor while President Obama remains in office.

The letter, obtained exclusively by National Review, formalizes pledges that Ryan made last week in a closed-door meeting with select members of the HFC who were skeptical of his promise to maintain an “open” and “inclusive” relationship with the caucus. Specifically, it extracts Ryan’s word that he will not bring up comprehensive immigration reform “so long as Barack Obama is president” and, as speaker, Ryan will not allow any immigration bill to reach the floor for a vote unless a “majority” of GOP members support it.

Alabama representative Mo Brooks wrote the letter and will enter it into the Congressional Record on Tuesday morning. He says his intention was to record the pledges Ryan made in the meeting and earn Ryan’s confirmation that the record was accurate, so he could vote for the Wisconsin Republican in good conscience come the congressional-floor election that will determine the next speaker.

It’s been widely reported that Ryan has promised to uphold the second promise in the letter — the so-called “Hastert Rule,” which is designed to ensure that legislation brought to the House floor has broad support in the Republican conference — but by agreeing to the letter’s substance, he’s giving his first endorsement of that policy as it specifically applies to immigration reform.

“I need your assurance that you will not use the Speaker’s position to advance your immigration policies . . . because there is a huge gap between your immigration position and the wishes of the American citizens I represent,” Brooks wrote. “Your words yesterday constitute the needed assurance.

“If my portrayal of your words errs in any respect, please deliver to me . . . a written communication correcting my errors,” the letter reads. Brooks delivered it directly to Ryan on the House floor and says Ryan called his office during a staff meeting less than two hours later, confirming the accuracy of his promises as stated in the letter.

When reached for comment, Ryan confirms Brooks’ account. “I have long and publicly been opposed to the gang of eight bill, and there will be no comprehensive immigration reform under this president,” he tells National Review.

Ryan may have won over a supermajority of the HFC last Wednesday, but his record on immigration continues to haunt him. Many HFC members are reaping the whirlwind of their unofficial assent to a Ryan speakership, as constituents flood their offices with angry phone calls, demanding to know why they aren’t fighting to prevent a man who once rallied support for the failed “Gang of Eight” immigration-reform bill from taking control of the House.

It’s perhaps just the scenario many in the HFC dreaded most after Ryan announced his conditional bid for speaker last week. Among HFC members, Ryan’s past support for immigration-reform legislation sparked fears that he planned to ram through such legislation after taking the speaker’s gavel. Ryan’s record includes past support for guest-worker programs that would provide a path to green-card status for illegal immigrants, and a vigorous push to persuade colleagues to take up the doomed Gang of Eight bill in 2013.

But as Brooks tells it, Ryan’s pledge indicates a significant step toward allaying misgivings about his past immigration stances, especially among the handful of HFC members — Brooks included — who have chosen to maintain their support for Florida representative Daniel Webster over Ryan in the GOP-conference vote that precedes the full House’s official speaker’s election.

Brooks is glued to his computer when he speaks to NR, finalizing responses to the many incensed voters who have sent him complaints about Ryan. Nevertheless, with the presumptive speaker’s promise on immigration in tow, he says he’s beginning to look forward. Of the potential for a healthy HFC voice throughout Ryan’s term, Brooks says, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

He adds that he believes Ryan will keep his promises.

“I said [to him], ‘Ok, Paul . . . this issue is a major source of disagreement, but I trust you when you give me your word.’”

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