Can Ryan run for president while chairman of Ways and Means Committee?

Greg Nash

When Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanObama signs Puerto Rico debt bill Will Never Trump forces draft Romney to run? The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Wis.) makes his case to Republican leaders that he should be the next Ways and Means Committee chairman, there could be a giant presidential elephant in the room.

GOP leaders will make major decisions on committee chairmen soon after the 2014 election. Unless the Wisconsin Republican rules out a presidential bid following the midterms, a core question would be whether Ryan can simultaneously run for president while heading the influential committee.

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Members who will likely serve on the secretive GOP Steering Committee say Ryan will be pressed about his presidential ambitions.

A lawmaker who has served on the steering panel said other members who sought to become a top-ranking committee Republican had to answer many questions.

“I know the Steering Committee has asked similar questions to other members at other times,” the lawmaker revealed, noting that Ryan’s potential answer “could” influence the panel’s decision. 

Matters decided by the approximately 30-member Steering Committee have long been deemed private. As a result, The Hill agreed to grant anonymity to nearly a dozen GOP lawmakers who serve on, or have served on the panel, to discuss the process without fear of retribution. 

Ryan, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate, has not ruled out a 2016 bid and recently traveled to Iowa to deliver a speech to Republicans in the Hawkeye State.

Still, the 44-year-old legislator has indicated he wants to hold the gavel of the tax-writing committee in the next Congress. But he has competition. 

Ryan’s more senior colleague on the panel, Rep. Kevin BradyKevin BradyTreasury officials to meet with lawmakers on inversion rules The bipartisan climate solution: a tax swap Republican chairman: Our tax reform plan fits with Trump's vision MORE (R-Texas), says he would like to succeed outgoing committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and intends to run a serious campaign for the coveted perch. 

“We are going to make our best case. I love the fact that House Republicans focus on the merit [and] … on what committee chairmen can bring to the table. ... I like the approach the Steering Committee takes and trust their judgment,” Brady told The Hill. 

Ryan, who now heads the Budget Committee, is the clear favorite to get the Ways and Means gavel. But if he remains coy on running for commander in chief, there might be an opening for Brady, who could be bolstered by the large GOP delegation in Texas.

A former lawmaker on the Ways and Means panel said, “I think most members who will be considering whether Paul or Kevin Brady should be chairman will probably either ask Paul directly or will determine in some way, in their own minds, that Paul is not going to run for president and instead just be chairman of Ways and Means.”

For that reason, the ex-member familiar with Ryan’s thinking predicted he wouldn’t run for president in 2016. 

“[Paul is] in this business for all the right reasons and remains in the business for all the right reasons. I think Paul is set on being chairman of Ways and Means, and he has decided not to run for president, at least not in 2016. I think he’s decided that he can’t do both, and he shouldn’t do both.”

Earlier this year, Ryan declared that he did not want to be Speaker, but has kept his “powder dry” regarding a bid for president. 

“I don’t [think he will run for president]. I think trying to do this with little kids is a pain in the ass,” a GOP lawmaker said, pointing out critics will question whether he is “a good dad” should he mount a campaign.

The policy challenges that he could tackle as head of arguably the most powerful congressional committee would be difficult to manage while running for commander in chief.

Ryan wants to overhaul the nation’s tax and entitlement program systems, and his efforts could be enhanced if the Senate flips to the GOP this fall. A self-described policy wonk, Ryan could become the most powerful Ways and Means chairman in decades.

“When you go to a committee where everything — every comma, every semicolon — makes billions and trillions of dollars in difference … I don’t think there’s time to be anything but Ways and Means chairman. If you are Ways and Means chairman, you don’t have time for anything else,” a senior GOP lawmaker told The Hill. 

However, the member added that “a good number” of his colleagues “think [Ryan] walks on water, so maybe they’d make an exception for him.” 

Several sophomore and freshman lawmakers said Ryan could juggle both responsibilities.

But one of those members said it is important for the Steering Committee to ask Ryan if he intended to do both: “Yes, we should ask that question … factor everything in when we make those decisions.” 

“I don’t think he’s going to run; he’s got kids. If you look at the other people that are running — [GOP Sens.] Rand Paul [Ky.] Ted Cruz [Texas], Marco Rubio [Fla.], they are spending a lot more time [laying the groundwork for a bid],” another Republican member said.  

Asked about Ryan’s recent trip to Iowa, the lawmaker explained that Ryan had agreed to headline the Lincoln Dinner months ago as a “favor” to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite.

Ryan has been raising a lot of money this election cycle. 

He has more than $4 million cash on hand between his personal campaign committee and leadership PAC, Prosperity Action, according to the most recent campaign filings. 

Thus far in the 2013-2014 cycle, his leadership PAC has given to more than 50 congressional candidates, three Senate GOP contenders and $65,000 to GOP campaign-related committees.  

Ryan spokesman William Allison declined to comment on the Ways and Means race or presidential politics, telling The Hill, “Chairman Ryan is focused on his work at the House Budget Committee.”