House Speaker Paul Ryan’s honeymoon with many conservatives continues despite his decision to block amendments to legislation tightening screening standards for Syrian refugees.
Instead, members told The Daily Signal, they credit Ryan for keeping the process relatively open when time was short—and for setting the stage for future reforms to address concerns that terrorists could slip through as refugees from terrorist hot spots such as Iraq and Syria.
Although a vocal proponent of normal process, the Wisconsin Republican suspended regular order in the House after the Paris terror attacks to fast-track the legislation.
Days before lawmakers recessed for Thanksgiving, the new speaker bypassed committees, shut down the amendment process, and rushed legislation onto the floor barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. without stricter screening.
Under a “closed rule,” the Rules Committee—the body responsible for determining when and if legislation and amendments come up for a vote—decided to move the legislation forward on its own and without amendments.
Considered an informal arm of House leadership, the Rule Committee regularly takes its marching orders from the speaker’s office.
Ryan told Politico the move was “definitely outside of the realm of regular order” but necessary. So far, conservative House members have not challenged the new speaker on the decision.
The refugee screening legislation represents a significant Republican victory and reflects a reinvigorated House. The bill passed 289-137, with enough bipartisan support to overcome President Obama’s promised veto.
One of the most significant amendments not considered was a proposal by Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, to place a six-month moratorium on refugee immigration. Fourteen lawmakers joined as cosponsors.
A supporter of that measure, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he was “disappointed” that Babin’s amendment didn’t get a vote but pleased that the House “passed a monumental piece of legislation.”
A board member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican lawmakers, Duncan told The Daily Signal that although leadership under Ryan moved quickly to bring the bill to a vote, they were “very inclusive” of and “very responsive” to members’ concerns.
“This wouldn’t have happened if Paul didn’t get engaged in this early on,” Duncan said of Ryan. “He created a task force over the weekend [of the Paris attacks]. He showed some real leadership.”
Although the bill bypassed committee markup and came to a vote without amendments, leadership posted the legislation for review three days before Thursday’s vote.
Asked about the process, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told The Daily Signal that “of course this is not regular order.” However, Fleming noted that the process looked very different from how it would have a month ago under Ryan’s predecessor, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
“We are taking a different approach than Boehner would. Boehner would come up with an idea and twist our arms to pass it,” Fleming said.
Ryan also deployed his staff in a secondary, supporting role during the drafting process. Unlike Boehner, he invited individual members and recruited committee leaders to give their input.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Ryan’s suspension of regular order is far from the new norm. Brat told The Daily Signal that Congress had to move swiftly to address a pressing matter of “national security” after the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris.
“They did a closed rule because if they opened it up, we wouldn’t have been done before recess,” Brat said.
Brat said the bill is a “first step” toward greater reform, and leadership already has “given assurances” the Babin amendment on a refugee moratorium will be allowed to come up for a vote during the appropriations process.
More proposed reforms of how the nation handles refugees are expected during the budget battle in December.
“There are a lot of us that want to see limitations on refugee resettlement programs,” Duncan told The Daily Signal. “With regard to funding in the omnibus [budget bill], we’re going to push for that.”
The South Carolina Republican said members “already had conversations with leadership” about other reforms.