House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made the smallest break from President Donald Trump on Tuesday, rejecting Trump’s recent claim that the president has the power to do away with birthright citizenship.
“Well, you obviously cannot do that,” Ryan said on Kentucky’s WVLK radio station after Trump said he was thinking about signing an executive order to end birthright citizenship.
“You know, as a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process,” Ryan said.
Under the 14th Amendment, citizenship is granted to all people born in the U.S., even if their parents aren’t citizens.
Although he signaled his opposition to an executive order to end birthright citizenship, Ryan ― who will be in office only until the end of the year before retiring from Congress ― did not offer any possible repercussions for Trump if he proceeded with such an order. There is also legislation in Congress sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would end birthright citizenship.
King has argued for years that it would not take a constitutional amendment to change birthright citizenship because of a clause in the 14th Amendment saying citizens are “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States — that is, not under the authority of a foreign power. Legal experts have argued the matter for years.
But hardly anyone ― except for the president, it seems ― believes birthright citizenship may be ended by executive order.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Trump said in an “Axios on HBO” interview taped on Monday. “You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
Trump falsely claimed that the U.S. is “the only country in the world” with such a path to citizenship. More than 30 nations, including Canada and Mexico, have similar policies in place.
Trump’s statements come a week before the midterm elections and appear aimed at once again riling up the Republican base. It’s unclear how serious he is, but if he issues such an executive order, it almost certainly would end up in the courts, where it would face extremely long odds of surviving.
There’s also the matter of subsequent presidents, any of whom may reverse their predecessors’ orders, just as Trump did with a number of President Barack Obama’s more contentious orders, like the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program.
Ryan filed suit against Obama on behalf of the House of Representatives over DACA in early 2016. Ryan later said during a sit-down interview with HuffPost that he would “sue any president that exceeds his or her power.”
He did not bring up the prospect of suing Trump on Tuesday, but that would be the logical response if the president issues an order ending birthright citizenship. Though such speculation is pointless for a number of reasons. For one, Trump often raises the possibility of doing something, only to lose interest. And if he issues such an order, Ryan likely won’t be there when it drops.
Ryan, who has sometimes clashed with Trump but largely gotten behind the president, announced in April that he would not seek re-election. Republican Bryan Steil and Democrat Randy Bryce are facing off in the race to fill his seat, and House members will elect a new speaker in January.