Ryan focuses on legacy as talk of shutdown dominates capital

Days away from relinquishing his Speaker’s gavel, Paul RyanPaul Davis Ryan Retirees should say 'no thanks' to Romney's Social Security plan California Governor Newsom and family dress as 2020 Democrats for Halloween DC's liaison to rock 'n' roll MORE is in full legacy mode.

The Wisconsin Republican on Tuesday rolled out a flattering six-part video series touting how he shepherded tax reform — his No. 1 legislative priority — through Congress a year ago.


At 1 p.m. Wednesday, the retiring Speaker will deliver a farewell address from the ornate Great Hall of the Library of Congress that will echo many of the themes in the video.

In recent weeks, Ryan has attended his portrait unveiling for the House Budget Committee, which he once led. He accepted a top civilian award from Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy MORE. And during appearances at The Washington Post, CBS and AEI, Ryan lamented partisan “tribalism” and “identity politics” as a major cause of today’s toxic political environment.

It’s all part of Ryan’s long farewell tour. And it’s fueled speculation about whether Ryan, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDeval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah MORE’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, might finally run for the White House himself in six years.

But Ryan’s focus on legacy preservation is being overshadowed by a looming government shutdown that, if it happens at week’s end, could represent a black mark on — and an unwanted bookend to — a remarkable 20-year career in Congress.

Ryan is “taking a victory lap as the stadium is being evacuated,” tweeted New York Times political reporter Alex Burns.

White House officials signaled on Tuesday they wanted to avoid a partial shutdown, suggesting for the first time that there are other ways for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE to get his $5 billion for a border wall.

But it was notable that that message did not come from Trump, who has insisted that the wall money be tied to a must-pass funding bill and declared that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government if his demands are not met.     

Democrats have agreed to a funding bill with more than $1.3 billion for fencing and other border security, but they’ve dismissed $5 billion for Trump’s wall as a non-starter.

Ryan, who flies back to Washington on Wednesday morning, has been kept in the loop on funding talks, sources said. He speaks regularly with Trump and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.). The focus of the negotiations, however, have centered mostly on Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.), since Republicans will need a handful of Democrats to get any funding measure through the upper chamber.

With Trump’s threat, a week that could have been about Ryan’s swan song is instead dominated by the possibility of a third government shutdown this year and whether the president might avert it and save Christmas for lawmakers, staffers and reporters, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers who need a paycheck over the holidays.

That dynamic is symbolic of the last two years of Ryan’s tenure in the Speaker’s Office: The self-disciplined budget wonk and fitness guru has wanted to keep the focus on conservative policies, but the mercurial president keeps creating unnecessary controversies, driving the party off-message and putting GOP leaders in difficult situations.

The video series, titled “Decades in the Making,” tracks Ryan’s long and arduous journey to overhaul the tax system, from a 28-year-old freshman lawmaker to vice presidential candidate to Ways and Means Committee chairman and finally to Speaker of the House.

Filmed and produced by his communications team, the Ryan retrospective includes cameos from Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFrom learning on his feet to policy director Is Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush MORE (R-Ohio); close friends from the House, like Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingHouse passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Maxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve MORE (R-Texas), former Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and South Dakota Gov.-elect Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota drops pipeline protest laws after lawsuit New South Dakota law requiring 'In God We Trust' sign to hang in public schools goes into effect Trump: If I say I should be on Mt. Rushmore, 'I will end up with such bad publicity' MORE (R); and Ryan’s top aides, including chief of staff Jonathan Burks and former deputy chief Joyce Meyer, who went on to become a deputy assistant to Trump.

“When you start to overhaul the tax code, inevitably you’re going to step on a lot of toes, and it takes a long time to do these kind of big changes,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFrom learning on his feet to policy director Is Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush MORE says in the first video, dubbed “The Idea.” “In Paul’s case, he spent his entire career building a consensus as to what to do and how to do it.”

The slick docuseries, which includes inspirational music and memorable moments from Ryan’s career, is a testament to the Speaker’s savvy digital media team. But it also drew derision from some GOP colleagues who thought the tax reform–focused series was too much about Ryan rather than the rank-and-file lawmakers — including those on the Ways and Means panel — who spent hundreds of hours drafting and working to pass the legislation with little credit.

Boehner, who abruptly resigned as Speaker the morning after the pope visited him in the Capitol in 2015, left office with little fanfare compared to Ryan. There was a tearful farewell address, but it was given from the well of the House floor, not the Great Hall.

And there was no six-part video series on Boehner’s signature legislative achievement: No Child Left Behind.

But as one House GOP lawmaker quipped: “Boehner ain’t running for POTUS in six years.”

At just 48, Ryan departs Washington as a young man. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Bernie Sanders tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan If we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Elizabeth Warren tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Warren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are decades older than Ryan and are openly mulling presidential bids in 2020.

With Trump seeking reelection, the next time there would be an opening to run would be in 2024. Ryan would be just 54 years old then.

But Ryan has repeatedly said he has no plans to run for president. In fact, after he hands over the Speaker’s gavel, the only government job he said he’d want is to be ambassador to Ireland, from where some of his ancestors emigrated.

GOP aides defended Ryan’s legacy-building efforts, arguing that Republicans need to show that they fulfilled a key 2016 campaign promise and passed tax reform. Also, as Democrats prepare to take back the House and try to roll back those tax cuts, Republicans need to make the case for why they should be preserved, aides said.

“As a kid from Janesville, Wis., I never thought I’d work on the Hill let alone be a member of Congress,” Ryan says in the sixth and final video, “The Finale.” “I just feel very blessed to have had these opportunities here, to take ideas, to push these ideas, to see them go into law and make a huge positive difference in people’s lives.

“It’s a great system we have.”