Rep. Paul Ryan, just days into his tenure as House speaker, has ruled out for now prospects for sweeping changes in U.S. immigration laws, making good on promises he made to conservatives while running for his new job.
Mr. Ryan, by declaring Sunday that he would oppose advancing comprehensive immigration legislation until after next year’s presidential elections, put to rest an issue that had been a chief concern of the most conservative Republicans in Congress.
“We won’t bring immigration legislation with a president we cannot trust on this issue,” Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said on ABC, a message he delivered in other Sunday interviews. He added that more limited legislation, “like border enforcement and interior security,” remains possible.
Mr. Ryan’s decision came as he balances his pledge to take on difficult issues with the political reality of rebellious lawmakers who are suspicious of his positions, especially on immigration policy. Some conservatives were reluctant to vote for Mr. Ryan for speaker last week because he has supported a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally.
Mr. Ryan came under particular pressure from the House Freedom Caucus, which said it had extracted a promise from Mr. Ryan not to pursue immigration legislation during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Mr. Ryan, who was involved in earlier efforts to get his party behind an immigration bill, is the latest Republican to pull back on the question with 2016 elections just a year away. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a presidential contender who had helped craft a bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate but wasn’t taken up by the House, also has backed away from his own position in favor of a more incremental approach. Republican candidate Jeb Bush also has eased backed from an earlier position in favor of a pathway to citizenship, now focusing on legal status.
Mr. Ryan won the House speakership last week with only nine Republican defections. In an internal GOP election to choose a Republican nominee for speaker, some 43 Republicans had voted for an alternative candidate.
Mr. Obama last year bypassed Congress to give millions of illegal immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation, which is on hold after a May federal appeals court ruling. Mr. Ryan’s predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, has said the president’s executive action poisoned the well and made it impossible to shepherd immigration legislation through Congress.
But Mr. Boehner, speaking Sunday on CNN, also said the most conservative members of the Republican caucus probably shared “some blame as well” for inaction on immigration legislation, while adding, “We could have dealt with that.”
If Mr. Ryan’s speakership lasts beyond the remainder of this Congress, he could face renewed pressure from hard-line Republicans over immigration policy. Rep. Mo Brooks (R., Ala.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview that Mr. Ryan’s remarks on Sunday are “just half of what he committed.”
Mr. Brooks said Mr. Ryan had also promised not to bring up immigration legislation for a vote without the agreement of a majority of House Republicans. “That’s our protection against amnesty and open border positions,” Mr. Brooks said.
On Sunday, Mr. Ryan stopped short of saying outright that he had agreed to abide by a policy that requires he can only bring bills to the House floor that enjoy the support of a majority of Republicans.
“I was elected to unify the Republican conference, not to dis-unify the Republican conference,” Mr. Ryan said on Fox News Sunday when pressed for his position on whether he would abide by what is known as the Hastert Rule, after former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “And so I think on the big controversial issues of the day I want to reach for, not just a narrow majority, I want to get us to consensus.”
Mr. Ryan flooded the airwaves with interviews on Sunday, as he showcased the communication skills that are part of what he plans to offer as speaker. Repeating remarks he made last week, Mr. Ryan said that Republicans needed to lay out their vision instead of simply opposing Democratic plans.
“We’ve taken plenty of tactical risks here in Congress,” Mr. Ryan said on CBS. “I think it’s time we take some policy risks by showing the people what we really believe, who we are, and how we can fix this country’s great problems.”
Mr. Ryan has used broad strokes to describe areas in which he would like advance a Republican agenda, including overhauling the tax system and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
In the Sunday interviews, he didn’t elaborate on any of those ideas, which will be hard to advance while Mr. Obama is president and while Senate Republicans control only 54 votes, short of the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles.
He also didn’t say when he expected a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact covering almost 40% of the world’s economy that was reached last month.
“I don’t know when that vote’s going to happen,” Mr. Ryan told Fox News Sunday, when asked whether the vote would be delayed until after next year’s elections.
Mr. Ryan has spent much of his time reassuring Republicans that he would run the House in a more open fashion than Mr. Boehner. In the Sunday interviews, he reiterated that pledge.
“I didn’t get elected dictator of the House,” Mr. Ryan told NBC. “I got elected speaker of the House. And that means, in my opinion, facilitating consensus among Republicans about how to move forward.”
This article appeared on WSJ with title Ryan, Reinforcing a Promise, Rules Out Immigration Prospects Through 2016.