Ryan seizes the bully pulpit

Ryan seizes the bully pulpit
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Get used to seeing a lot more of Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer House approves five-year farm bill House postpones vote on compromise immigration bill MORE.

The Wisconsin Republican’s media blitz in the first three weeks since winning the Speaker's gavel is just the beginning.

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Days after he was sworn in, Ryan appeared on all five major Sunday talk shows. He joined Hugh Hewitt and Bill Bennett’s popular conservative radio programs, sat down with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren and Sean Hannity, and appeared at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event. CBS’s “60 Minutes” caught up with Ryan and his wife, Janna, in their hometown of Janesville — a segment that Ryan’s GOP colleagues can’t stop talking about. 

On Thursday, Ryan stepped before the TV cameras for his weekly solo press conference in the Capitol’s basement. Moments later, he invited a handful of print reporters into the Speaker’s office just as the House voted to toughen screening for refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks.

For the newly minted Speaker, this is what it means to go on offense.

“I think we should run in 2016 on who we are, what we believe, and what we will do if elected,” Ryan said in a half-hour roundtable with reporters in his office with sweeping views of the nation’s capital. “Look, we really don’t think the country is headed in the right direction on all of these major issues, so therefore we should give people a choice by giving them a clear alternative. 

“To me, it’s liberating. To me, it’s honest. To me, it’s what is necessary if we are going to have the kinds of reforms that are going to meet the kinds of challenges we have.”

With the GOP’s large presidential field still unsettled, the 45-year-old Ryan believes he should be communicating the party’s message at every opportunity. The self-described policy wonk said he enjoys debating big ideas and engaging with the press — something former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) simply saw as a necessary part of the job.

“I think that John just wasn’t doing much of that. It wasn’t his thing. I’m a different generation with a different style,” said Ryan, a fitness fanatic who recently had the walls repainted and carpets cleaned in the Speaker’s office to try to get rid of the smell from his chain-smoking predecessor.

“I like expressing ideas, I’m a Jack Kemp guy, I love talking about ideas, talking about making a difference. That is part of this vocation that I like.”

Ryan’s House colleagues have been gushing about the “60 Minutes” segment that aired about their new leader. At times, the piece veered into the personal, and the Ryans weren't shy about opening up. Janna Ryan told CBS’s Scott Pelley why she initially urged her husband not to take the job: The demands would be too great and “leave too little of him for his role as father and husband.” 

Ryan in the interview recalled the morning he walked into his father’s bedroom and discovered him dead of a heart attack. The future Speaker was just 16, then working at McDonald’s to earn a little extra money.

“I learned tragedy. I learned perseverance,” Ryan told Pelley.

In a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Thursday, Ryan mentioned his appearance on “Hannity” the night before, explaining that he was trying to take the lead on communications and strategy. He was met with applause, people in the room said.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) was among a handful of lawmakers who stood up and told Ryan she appreciated his “aggressive” efforts to lay out how Republicans are approaching issues such as national security and creating a more “bottom-up” system in the House.

“When the bully pulpit you’re up against is the presidency, it’s tremendously helpful to have the highest-ranking Republican official, the Speaker of House, out there,” added Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). Ryan’s an “articulate spokesperson … He has a giant brain. And he combines youth and experience, which usually don’t go together.”

He’s only been Speaker since Oct. 29, but Ryan seems at ease in the media’s glare. He’s drawn on his experience as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, where he gave speeches before thousands, debated Vice President Biden on national TV, and was trailed by a pack of reporters everywhere he went.

When Ryan doesn’t want to answer a question from the media, he simply doesn’t. “Nice try,” he said when a reporter from The Hill asked who he is close to from the conservative Freedom Caucus. 

“I’m not going to take the bait on that one,” he told a Washington Post reporter who asked whether he believes Freedom Caucus members are true “movement conservatives.”

With the rhetoric heating up in the GOP presidential primary, Ryan knows that he needs to choose his words carefully. After the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on the Obama administration to ban Muslim Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, backed Ryan’s plan to require tougher screenings for refugees, but said the U.S. should place greater priority on those who can “prove” that they’re Christian.

Ryan quickly took the House floor to tamp down such talk. “We will not have a religious test. Only a security test,” he said.

So far, Ryan is still on a honeymoon with the Freedom Caucus, the band of 40 conservative hardliners who forced Boehner into an early retirement last month. They like what the new Speaker has been doing and saying.   

“Whenever there is a vacuum, somebody is going to fill it. I would much rather see Speaker Ryan fill that vacuum than a number of others within the Republican Party,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who led the campaign to oust Boehner, told The Hill.

“It’s made me up my game. With him going on national media on such a regular basis, I’m having to drill down much deeper on subjects so I can understand them and be able to respond to questions about what Speaker Ryan has said. It’s huge.”