Paul Ryan refutes rumors of early retirement from House

Greg Nash

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to tamp down rumors Tuesday that he’s planning to leave Congress, telling rank-and-file lawmakers in a private meeting that he’s not giving up the speakership anytime soon.

The Wisconsin Republican’s defiant remarks were met with a standing ovation from his colleagues on a historic day in which the House passed a sweeping tax-reform bill. (After the vote, Republicans were told that the House will have to vote again on the tax plan Wednesday, in order to clear the Senate’s Byrd rule.)

{mosads}In his speech in the Capitol’s basement, the 47-year-old Speaker said he still has plenty he wants to accomplish in 2018, specifically on entitlement and welfare reform. 

Ryan has relayed that same message during one-on-one phone calls and private meetings with GOP colleagues, sources said.

“I am not going anywhere anytime soon. And let’s just leave that thing at that,” a dismissive Ryan told reporters at a news conference after the closed-door meeting with House Republicans.

Speculation has been rampant in recent weeks that Ryan could resign from Congress either in the middle of his term, shortly after passing tax reform — his top legislative priority — or after the 2018 midterm elections.

“I think Paul’s got to do what Paul’s got to do. He was a reluctant person to take the job; it’s not something he ever wanted,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus that forced out Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in the fall of 2015. “And you know, there is something to be said about going out when you’re on the top of the heap when you get something like tax reform.

“Anything is possible.”

Another GOP lawmaker who knows Ryan well acknowledged “the wisdom in leaving right after a big success.”

“But at the same time, there is no factual basis that he’s leaving right away,” the lawmaker said.

Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, flirted with a presidential bid of his own in 2016, penning a book titled “The Way Forward” before the primary season kicked off.

If the young Speaker still harbors any presidential ambitions in 2024 or further down the road, he’d be wise to step down now, rather than wait around for a conservative revolt against his leadership or a shellacking at the polls next November.

“Still think that if he wants to be president, he’d be better off leaving sooner rather than later,” Chris Cillizza, CNN’s editor-at-large, tweeted Tuesday.

But Ryan is pushing back hard against the Capitol Hill rumor mill. If he’s perceived as a lame duck on his way out the door, crucial 2018 fundraising dollars could dry up and he could lose political leverage as he faces upcoming battles over the budget, immigrant “Dreamers,” the debt ceiling and unresolved health-care matters.

Furthermore, despite the tax victory, Ryan still believes he has unfinished business. He’s spoken to President Trump and many of his GOP colleagues about turning their focus to cutting spending on health-care and anti-poverty programs as a way to curb the deficit and debt.

Under their 2016 “Better Way” campaign plan, House Republicans called for giving seniors a choice to join competing plans in addition to Medicare, as well as work requirements for people who receive welfare and food stamps.

“We still have things we need to accomplish,” said Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), a Ryan ally who frequently attends weekly leadership meetings in the Speaker’s office. “And after we get through tax reform, we want to make sure we get the ‘Better Way’ agenda implemented.”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) conceded that Speakers don’t typically last very long in the top job. The veteran lawmaker, who is close to leadership, has served under five Speakers in two decades: Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Boehner and Ryan.

But with their first taste of victory, rank-and-file Republicans will rally behind the Speaker — and his agenda, Shimkus said.

“After we have a big win, can we do welfare reform? Can we do an infrastructure bill? If we stay united as a Republican conference, we’re a pretty powerful force,” Shimkus told The Hill.

“Tax reform is unifying, historic, and we believe it will produce as advertised.”

The palace intrigue surrounding Ryan’s future kicked off in September after The Washington Post reported that Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and other conservatives were discussing the possibility of mounting a leadership challenge to Ryan. The group floated Gingrich or former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as possible replacements, the Post said.

But the coup against Ryan never materialized.

Then, in early November, The Hill reported the Speaker could quit Congress shortly after shepherding tax reform to the president’s desk — a move that would allow him to go out on a positive note, rather than being driven out like Boehner.

Last week, the Huffington Post ran a story titled “When Will Paul Ryan Step Down?” that raised the specter of Ryan announcing his resignation after tax reform, then “cleaning the barn” like Boehner did during the waning days of his time as Speaker.

For Ryan, that would entail striking deals with Democrats to lift spending caps and figure out how to protect the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump has ordered that Obama-era program to end in March.

But it was a Politico story that really got under Ryan’s skin. The news outlet reported that Ryan had told some of his “closest confidants” that this would be his last term in Congress and that he’d resign after the midterm elections.

That’s a scenario some Ryan colleagues on Capitol Hill see as very likely. “I don’t see a scenario where he stays,” said one Ryan friend in the House. “I think he runs and gets reelected [in the 2018 cycle], but I don’t see him staying in the next Congress.”

On Tuesday, a frustrated Ryan lashed out at the Politico report: “I actually think that piece was very irresponsible. It was a speculative piece and it was faulty speculation.

“And I wanted to put it to rest.”

It’s unlikely, though, that Ryan has quashed all the rumors — to the chagrin of many of his friends and allies in Congress.

“He’s done a tremendous job this year. Look at what we’re on the cusp of doing,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), an appropriator who is running for the Senate in 2018. “These things unfortunately take on a life of their own and tend to get traction when there really is no indication from the Speaker [that he’s leaving]. In fact, it’s just the opposite.”

Tags Boehner Donald Trump Evan Jenkins John Boehner John Shimkus Mark Meadows Nancy Pelosi Paul Gosar Paul Ryan
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