By Scott Wong - 08/29/14 03:53 PM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called on President Obama to “step up” and devise a strategy to deal with the threat from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).
“What we need to have is a strategy to finish them off, to defeat ISIS. Not contain them, not to react, but to fundamentally finish them off,” Ryan said late Thursday night during an event at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Ryan’s comments came after Obama said his administration did not have a comprehensive military game plan to counter the militants.
“We don’t have a strategy,” Obama told reporters.
Critics seized on the remark, and White House officials quickly began to do damage control.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was responding to a specific question about possible military strikes against ISIS in Syria. Targeted airstrikes are underway against ISIS in Iraq, and Obama is weighing expanding those operations to hit the group’s stronghold in Syria.
But that’s done little to quell Republicans, including Ryan, who say Obama’s foreign policy is weakening America’s status in the world.
“This isn’t Iraq War 2.0. This is far different that than, and we have to get on this fast while it’s containable,” Ryan said. “If we don’t rise to this moment, that sends the worst possible signal to tomorrow’s jihadists.”
The Reagan Library, where the former president is buried, has been a critical stop for possible GOP presidential candidates — Govs. Chris Christie (N.J.) and Scott Walker (Wis.), and Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) have all given high-profile speeches there.
Ryan’s visit to the Reagan Library was the latest stop on his nationwide tour promoting his new book, “A Way Forward.” And his pilgrimage further stoked 2016 speculation over the House Budget Committee chairman, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.
Ryan immediately paid homage to the “Gipper.”
“I open the book with Reagan, and I close the book with Reagan,” Ryan said in an hourlong discussion with moderator Bill Bennett, Reagan’s education secretary, that was posted online Friday afternoon.
Reagan grew up along the Rock River in Dixon, Ill., the same river that runs through Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis.
“My dad thought that was just the neatest thing,” Ryan continued. “A guy from downstream, small town, could go and do what he did. … What I got out of the Ronald Reagan presidency was here was a leader who was not afraid to fly the bright colors and put aside the pale pastels.”
As he’s repeated throughout his summer book tour, Ryan said he hasn’t made up his mind about running in 2016. He said he’s focused on making sure the GOP stands for something and is not just the party of “no.”
He said his attention was on expanding the party’s House majority and winning the Senate.
“I’m really getting tired of Harry Reid,” he said, of the Senate's Democratic leader.
A run for the White House is a “2015 decision with my family that will take prayer and assessment of where we are in life,” he added.
Ryan declined to say who might be a strong GOP president candidate but agreed that his party has a deep bench heading into 2016. And he’s optimistic about his party’s chances to take back the White House, saying Americans have now had time to realize the harmful effects of Obama’s policies.
“The challenge that Mitt and I had in 2012 was, we were basically shadowboxing against big government in theory,” Ryan said, adding that Obama delayed implementation of ObamaCare and other regulations until after the election.
“Now in 2013 and 2014, we see Big Government in practice,” he added. “The results look nothing like the rhetoric.”
Electing another Democrat in the White House will be more of the same, Ryan argued. “A [Hillary] Clinton presidency and [Elizabeth] Warren presidency, who ever they will nominate, is a third Obama term," Ryan said.