Ryan returns to a starring role

A subdued Paul Ryan returned to the House this week with a slew of political opportunities ahead of him — both on Capitol Hill and beyond. 

On Wednesday, more than a week after the close of a bruising presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s running mate was embraced by his Republican colleagues during a closed-door meeting. They gave him a standing ovation in a bittersweet moment for the Wisconsin lawmaker. 

In September, Ryan had tried to reassure anxious House Republicans about the presidential race, telling them, “We are going to win this thing.”

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Ryan remarked to reporters after the Wednesday meeting that he had told his colleagues it “was an honor” to serve on the Republican ticket.

“It was a great experience,” Ryan said. “It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, but it’s great to return to all my friends, and I’m proud of the leadership the House Republicans provided the country.”

Though disappointed that the GOP was unsuccessful in capturing the White House or winning a majority in the Senate, Republican House lawmakers took solace in their own majority retention and Ryan’s return. 

Conservative Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp told The Hill, “[Ryan’s] getting right back in. He’s not riding off in the sunset. Thank goodness.” 

Huelskamp serves on the Budget Committee under Ryan’s leadership. The freshman said that moving forward, Ryan will need to “retool” his efforts on producing a GOP budget plan for the foreseeable years of divided government. 

“[Ryan] spent two years on the Budget Committee preparing for when we have a Republican president. He has to retool and say, ‘OK, now what do we do?’ I am anxious to see what his vision is, and his role in the next two to four years,” Huelskamp said. 

Conservatives in the House conference are relieved that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is prepared to give Ryan a waiver to serve at the helm of the Budget Committee for at least one more term. The GOP Steering Committee will make that decision official when the House returns following Thanksgiving.

And they point to the fact that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) will serve his third and final term as head of the powerful tax-writing panel in the 113th Congress. Ryan is well-placed to succeed Camp when the spot opens in two years. It could be difficult, however, for Ryan to run the Ways and Means Committee, if he decides to run for president in the 2016 cycle.

In recent interviews with local news outlets and ABC News, Ryan said it is “too early” to think about a possible run for president in 2016. 

Conservatives outside the Beltway, including RedState’s Erick Erickson, have suggested that Ryan should take on Boehner as the top-ranking elected Republican. 

But even Tea Party darling Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he hadn’t heard any such talk among his fellow House lawmakers. 

“I’ve not heard that, and I don’t see a movement in that direction,” King said.

Recently, Boehner called Ryan a “policy wonk,” a label Ryan appreciates. 

“I’ve always been one of the House policy wonks,” Ryan told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on Tuesday. “I don’t think that we have one person who’s a leader. We shouldn’t have just one person that’s a leader of the Republican Party. It’s decentralized. We have a lot of great talent in this party. We have a lot of talented people that are gonna be offering their ideas.” 

Boehner has added Ryan, Camp and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to his “fiscal cliff” crisis team in preparation for the weeks of negotiating to come. 

Though Ryan is rolling up his sleeves for “solutions,” he seemed a bit out of sorts as he returned to the familiar Capitol stomping grounds. 

King commented that “those races do change people. I don’t know if or how it’s changed Paul, but I just know that when you get thrown into that crucible, you see a lot of things. The experience was very good for him. It gives him more leverage, and I’m glad he’s coming back as chairman of the Budget Committee.” 

The presidential race was the first that Ryan has lost in his political career. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “losing was a foreign experience. It’s tough to describe it.”

And when colleague after colleague approached him on the House floor Tuesday night, Ryan appeared appreciative, but still struggling with the defeat.

Ryan is now flanked by two security guards, an unusual sight for a member of the House outside of leadership. 

Asked by The Hill, “Can I ask you a quick question?” Ryan tersely responded, “No.”

When it was suggested to him that he hasn’t changed that much after all, Ryan laughed and said, “That’s good.”

He then added that having been Romney’s running mate “was a positive experience. Very much so.”