Politico

Ryan weighed stripping Frelinghuysen of chairmanship

Written by Lisa

Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team recently discussed replacing House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen after he bucked the party and voted against the GOP tax bill, multiple sources told POLITICO.

Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) over the Thanksgiving recess considered calling up the GOP steering committee charged with selecting chairmen to force a roll call on whether Frelinghuysen should maintain his position. Scalise, three sources said, pushed hard for the move and was furious that the New Jersey Republican opposed the legislation that leaders believe is vital to maintaining their majority.

“Committee chairmen are expected to support the team,” said one senior GOP leadership aide said. “How does he expect to win support for his own bills when he’s unwilling to support the President and Speaker’s number one priority?”

Spokespeople for Ryan’s office and the Appropriations Committee declined to comment.

News about the talks comes after Ryan last week pulled out of a fundraiser for Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, another centrist Republican who voted against the tax bill. Both Zeldin and Frelinghuysen share concerns about what repealing the state and local tax deduction would mean for their high-tax districts, where constituents use that benefit to lower their federal tax bill.

But Republican lawmakers are even more angry about Frelinghuysen, who’s one of the most powerful chairmen in the conference. Chairmen are expected to support GOP leaders on tough votes or major pieces of legislation. And Frelinghuysen, who hails from a more moderate-minded swing district, was not given a green light to vote against the tax bill.

The chairman’s “no” vote is particularly sensitive because Ryan, McCarthy and Scalise often have to strong-arm other Republicans to vote for government funding bills that come out of Frelinghuysen’s committee. There’s a fear that if the chairman is not punished, other lawmakers will balk when GOP leaders need them most on spending bills.

“If there’s no perceived blowback against Frelinghuysen, Ryan’s hand is weakened,” said a second House Republican source familiar with the back-and-forth. “It’s almost a political necessity. There has to be real or perceived blowback.”

At the same time, many conservative Republicans grew angry when former Speaker John Boehner removed lawmakers from prized committees for voting against leadership on critical bills. Boehner punished former Rep. Tim Huelskamp by kicking him off the Agriculture Committee — which helped lead to his primary defeat just over a year later.

“I disagree with the chairman’s vote, but he, like all of us, should vote according to the principles on which he was elected—as long as within bounds of the Constitution,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Twitter. “Leaders would be wise to surround themselves with more people, not fewer, who hold alternative viewpoints.”

It’s not the first time Frelinghuysen has gone against leadership. Ryan and his top lieutenants had to work hard to flip him from “no” to “yes” on the Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year. The New Jersey Republican did not want to vote for the health bill and worried it would undercut his re-election effort, multiple sources told POLITICO at the time.

Frelinghuysen was also one of only two Republicans to vote in early October against a GOP bill to restrict abortions after 20 weeks except in instances of rape or where the mother’s life is in danger.

Beyond floor votes, Frelinghuysen clashed with Ryan over a new, controversial Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Frelinghuysen, eager to embrace “regular order,” allowed his panel in June to adopt a bipartisan amendment to a spending bill that would phase out the post-9/11 authority for military action overseas and call for new war guidelines.

Ryan called it a “mistake” at the time — and instructed the House Rules Committee to strip the language from the bill before it even hit the floor.

Then, again to the chagrin of GOP leaders, Frelinghuysen took the unusual step in July of allowing controversial immigration language to be adopted by voice vote during a committee markup. Using the same tactic as with the AUMF provision, GOP leaders again overrode the chairman’s call by plucking the immigration language before it reached the floor.

The discussion about Frelinghuysen’s fate comes as Congress barrels toward a potential shutdown at week’s end. House Republicans are expected to pass a two-week spending stopgap without Democratic support on Wednesday, a painful vote for conservatives and appropriators who see “continuing resolutions” as bad policy.

Even if a shutdown is averted, conservatives are likely to be forced in the coming weeks to accept an increase in non-defense spending in order to win a Pentagon budget boost — then back a massive omnibus in January that could include additional spending for other programs that is not offset with cuts elsewhere.

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.

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