House asks judge to block Trump plan for border wall funds
Speculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe
Paul Ryan's job as Speaker of the House is secure, but people are beginning to chatter about whether this could be his final term leading House Republicans.
By the November 2018 midterms, the Wisconsin Republican will have spent three years in the Speaker's office, a post he never asked for, never wanted and never intended to occupy forever.
And Ryan, 47, has faced a number of obstacles in year one of the Trump administration, most recently suffering the embarrassment of being publicly undercut when President Trump brokered a debt and spending deal with Democrats just hours after Ryan had dismissed the minority's offer.
A report of a coup plot last week by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and other conservatives never materialized, however, and in multiple interviews, Meadows repeatedly insisted to The Hill that there was no serious attempt to remove Ryan.
"I think if the Speaker actually is able to deliver on tax reform and we come back and address [ObamaCare] repeal and replacement in a meaningful way and deliver on some of the other campaign promises like infrastructure and the wall, he could be Speaker for as long as he wants to be Speaker," Meadows told The Hill.
But Meadows also pointed out why modern-day Speakers typically don't stay in the job very long: "The patience of the American people is at an all-time low. They don't give you a long time; they give you a short time. And so he's had a short honeymoon to show results."
Lawmakers who speak highly of Ryan are also willing to make the case for why he might leave - though only on background.
"I think Paul, if he has a big victory on tax reform, he might just soon go out on top," said one House Republican who speaks with Ryan frequently. "Paul's a pretty thoughtful guy. He automatically could make a lot of money in his career, and he hasn't yet.
"I can easily see him doing that. He's young enough to make use of it. I wouldn't blame him if he did."
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong had no comment about his future plans, referring The Hill to the Speaker's remarks Wednesday that he was focused on enacting tax reform.
"This is a commitment we made to not just Republicans but to Americans," Ryan said at an Associated Press event. "And that's why I think it's really incredibly important that we deliver on this promise, because if we do deliver on this promise, we will help people."
No Speaker's job is easy, and Ryan's is no exception.
The Ryan-Trump relationship is volatile, and one of Trump's former top advisers, Breitbart News Chairman Stephen Bannon, has made no secret of the fact that he wants Ryan gone. Ryan will likely have to live with a new wave of attacks from Breitbart now that Bannon is back at its helm.
"I've got three certainties in my life: death, taxes and attacks from Breitbart," Ryan told the AP on Wednesday. "It's just something that I've come to learn to live with in my life."
While Trump and Ryan need one another to enact a GOP agenda, the president has attacked some of Ryan's allies and fired his first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, a close friend of Ryan's and fellow Wisconsinite, after just six months.
A number of lawmakers express sympathy for Ryan, who has three school-age children and flies back to Janesville, Wis., every weekend. They argue that an attack by Trump could cause House Republicans to rally behind their duly elected Speaker. (In January, Ryan was reelected Speaker on a near-unanimous vote.)
"The Speaker is essential to the success of the president, and the White House knows that, besides the fact that no one else wants the job or could get to 218 votes on the House floor," said a former House GOP leadership aide.
They also acknowledge the difficulties Ryan faces because of Trump.
"He deserves a medal for putting up with all the nonsense," the former leadership aide said.
In the past, Republican Speakers have resigned after losing their majorities, and most GOP lawmakers interviewed for this story think Ryan would be no exception. Democrats would need to gain 24 seats to take back the majority, a high bar but not impossible in a midterm election year where the president's party is playing defense. Ryan might even retire if Republicans hold the House but lose a significant number of seats, some lawmakers say.
Several of Ryan's GOP colleagues told The Hill they also could see the Speaker voluntarily stepping down from the job next year if he scores a victory on comprehensive tax reform, his top legislative priority.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who served for a number of years with Ryan on the Ways and Means Committee, agreed that the Speaker would be more apt to leave after notching a couple of big legislative wins.
"It all depends on if he achieves some of the major successes that he came to Washington, D.C., to do," said Reed, co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which met with Trump on tax reform Wednesday. "If he gets tax reform done, he gets health care done, those are huge issues that any Speaker would be proud of."
While some of Ryan's usual critics have openly griped about the GOP's inability to pass its agenda, they say Ryan doesn't have to worry about a coup attempt.
"I don't see anything organized at this point," Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), an outspoken Ryan critic, told The Hill.
"When we have a lot of important things to do, I don't think it's very easy to make the case that those important things would get done with a different Speaker," added Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), head of the Conservative Opportunity Society who publicly clashed with former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) before his ouster in 2015.
"That doesn't mean that there's not discontent," King said.
Another factor for the GOP and Ryan is that, as with Boehner, it is difficult to see who would be a successor.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the No. 2 Republican, is very close with Trump, but few have forgotten his stunning decision to pull out of the Speaker's race in 2015 after conservatives rebelled against his candidacy.
"I don't think that [McCarthy] or the other names that I've heard could get near enough votes to make it happen," said one conservative GOP lawmaker. "I think if Ryan stepped down, we would have a hard time finding anyone to get enough votes to be Speaker. I think it would be very hard for us to replace Paul Ryan."
Added Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), a Ryan ally and former top official at the Republican National Committee: "Speaker Ryan is here as long as he chooses to be. What he is doing is a sacrifice, and I think he's got broad support in the conference."
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), House Republicans' former campaigns chief who now chairs the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, said there's no way to predict the future given the last two years in American politics.
"It's possible [Ryan retires], but it's also possible that he would serve another term. I think it's too early to tell," Walden told The Hill. "And what we think the issues are now are ultimately going to change dramatically when we get to the election."