New Speaker Paul Ryan aims to ease tension with Senate

New Speaker Paul Ryan aims to ease tension with Senate
© Greg Nash

Newly elected Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.) on Tuesday sought to mend fences with Senate Republicans.

In a move aimed at minimizing ­intraparty bickering, Ryan walked to the other side of the Capitol to huddle with GOP senators at their weekly luncheon.

By all accounts, the powwow was a success.


Ryan, receiving warm applause, told the senators that he wants to improve relations between the two chambers, which broke down this year during disagreements over Department of Homeland Security funding, the Patriot Act and a multiyear highway bill.

He also wants to play more of a public role as party leader and spokesman than did his predecessor, former Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger MORE (R-Ohio). The 2012 vice presidential nominee is at ease in front of television cameras, whereas the former Speaker preferred joking with colleagues and reporters on Capitol Hill.

But while Ryan has signaled he plans to meet with GOP senators more frequently in an effort to improve coordination, he cautioned that there’s not much he can do to stem criticism from other House lawmakers.

“He gave us fair warning. The House is going to beat up the Senate,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity. “You know the saying in the House: The Democrats are the opponents, but the Senate is the enemy.”

Despite that, Ryan said he would do as much as possible to ease tensions.

Some conservatives say much of the turmoil that pushed Boehner to resign and derailed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bid for a promotion stemmed from frustration over the inability of the Senate to move House-passed legislation.

Ryan said the first thing is to set realistic expectations on what can and cannot get done in Congress when Democrats have enough votes to sustain ­filibusters and President Obama wields the veto pen.

“He certainly understands the limitations of the Senate and working with us to make sure the House does understand the limitations of the Senate and respect those limitations,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “There’s been a lot of overpromising that we can’t deliver.”

Ryan suggested that when setting the party’s agenda in Congress, Republicans should “be modest in terms of what we can accomplish,” according to Johnson.

After Republicans captured the Senate in the last election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cautioned House Republicans at a joint retreat in Hershey, Pa., that he could only move bills with bipartisan support because of the 60-vote threshold needed to end filibusters. But the message didn’t stick.

McCarthy lashed out at the Senate in September as the primary cause of gridlock, telling Fox News, “What’s stopping us is the Senate.”

Many House Republicans shared his frustration.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said last month the Senate filibuster is “the primary cause of the division in the House.”

House conservatives regularly excoriated the upper chamber for killing conservative proposals such as stopping Obama’s executive action on immigration and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, expressed frustration that House leaders balked at passing a multi-year highway bill or a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

“We need a unified political message, the House and the Senate,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). “We haven’t done a very good job of it. We still have a situation where the House passes things and the Senate rejects them.

“We’re in a new time of cable TVs, and we got to reach a higher level and coordinate,” he said.

“[M]y greatest frustration is the lack of coordination,” said Johnson. “For the lack of coordination, the House might as well be 500 miles away from the Senate, so I think it’s crucial our conferences work much more collaboratively.”

Ryan assured senators he understands the importance of representing the GOP brand in the media and emphasized that he would take a “positive” approach.

The 45-year-old reminded them that he used to work for the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), indicating he would approach the job as a “happy warrior” — in the words of one senator — and focus on “pro-growth” economic policies.

That message resonated on Tuesday, and GOP senators gave him rave reviews after his inaugural Sunday morning show interviews as Speaker.

He said he would devote his time to “policy and communication,” implying that he would not be crisscrossing the country as much as Boehner to raise money for candidates, according to another Republican senator who talked on background.

“We told him to be more out front. Whenever he’s out front it’s good for the party,” said a lawmaker who attended the meeting.

“He looked like a million dollars right out of central casting. He’s at the top of this game,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

“He’s crushing it,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.).

According to Thune, Ryan said his immediate focus is finishing work on the highway bill and that he plans to do “some big things” next year to spur economic growth, such as tax and regulatory reform and energy policy.

The Speaker also emphasized an intention to focus on national security, “which is going to be a big issue as we head into 2016,” Thune added.

Although the Senate filibuster rule has inflamed tempers in the House, Ryan knew better than to preach rules reform on the other side of the Capitol, something the House GOP tried to press on McConnell during last month’s budget talks.

Instead, Ryan said he would work to explain the difference in cultures to his House colleagues.

“He is very aware of what the limitations are in the Senate and will do a really good job in trying to just communicate that to his House members. He’s got a lot of people there who have just been elected in the last five years,” said Thune, a former House member.