Senate Republicans fret over Ryan retirement decision

Senate Republicans fret over Ryan retirement decision
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are concerned that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE’s (R-Wis.) decision to leave Congress will make it tougher to get things done this year and fear a protracted leadership race in the House could suck up a lot of time and attention.

Senators see Ryan as a reliable partner in checking President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE when he diverges from where most Republicans stand, such as on tariffs.

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In recent weeks, Ryan has joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE (R-Ky.) in criticizing the impact of tariffs on trade and the economy and in waving the president off from contemplating the firing of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

On big-picture policy questions, Ryan and McConnell have been in lockstep in efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare, reform the tax code and boost military spending by $165 billion over two years.

“Everything we do is coordinated between Sen. McConnell and Senate leadership with the House leadership and obviously the Speaker,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (Texas), who described the relationship with Ryan as “very close.”

Cornyn expressed hope that Ryan’s successor will collaborate just as smoothly with the Senate leadership. But that remains to be seen.

Ryan and McConnell have tried to keep the party moored to its traditional free-trade positions. McConnell warned last week that imposing tariffs create a “slippery slope” that could lead to a trade war.

Ryan stated his opposition to Trump’s proposal to place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and warned of “unintended consequences.”

Senators say Ryan was willing to pursue ambitious policy goals and take tough votes in a way that can’t be taken for granted when he is replaced.

“We may not get as much done,” said one Senate Republican committee chairman, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Ryan’s departure.

A second senior Republican senator said he is worried about a months-long leadership race between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay MORE (R-La.).

“It will be tougher to accomplish things if there’s a drawn out leadership race. It would be better if this gets wrapped up in a month,” the lawmaker said of the contest to replace Ryan.

Still, many on Capitol Hill believed prior to Ryan’s announcement on Wednesday that the chances of sweeping legislation passing before the election is slim at best.

Cornyn agreed Wednesday afternoon that Senate leaders would like to have more certainty about the future of the House leadership structure.

“Anything that creates a little bit of stability and predictability is a good thing. The longer something like this goes on, I think the more distracting it will be,” he said.

Right now, GOP lawmakers are uncertain about the timing of the leadership race, something made more complicated by the upcoming elections.

At this point, McCarthy, Scalise and other possible contenders don’t know if they’re running for the job of Speaker or minority leader, as control of the House is up for grabs.

With the midterm election less than six months away and uncertainty at the top of the House leadership team, there’s a growing sense among Republican senators that not much legislation will pass in the months ahead.

“All the big things that are going to get done are probably already done,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (R-Ariz.).

Ryan’s announced retirement is not likely to affect fundraising, however.

GOP lawmakers point out that he will continue to raise money to keep the House in Republican control and secure his legacy. They also note that McCarthy and Scalise are likely to step up their fundraising efforts as part of their bids for Speaker.

But with a Senate GOP majority much safer than a House majority, Republican donors could opt to direct their resources to preserving McConnell as majority leader.

Senate Republicans like working with Ryan because he has had a long career on Capitol Hill — being elected to the House in 1998 and serving as a congressional staffer before that — and had a grasp of how difficult it is to pass legislation through the upper chamber.

“He was so knowledgeable from serving on the Hill for so long. He knew what can and can’t be done and what that really means,” said Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP blocks bill to reopen Homeland Security What the government shutdown means for our nation’s cybersecurity GOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy MORE (R-Okla.).

Other House Republicans have cut the Senate less slack over its inability to pass a variety of legislative priorities because of rules that require 60 votes to pass most controversial measures.

Trump has often bashed the Senate over the past year for failing to move top priorities such as a health-care bill and urged senators to reform their rules.

Ryan at times noted how many House-passed bills were waiting for action in the Senate, but he generally refrains from lobbing grenades across the Capitol.

As a result, relations between Senate and House Republicans are solid.

Some Senate Republicans, however, worry that Ryan’s successor will be more deferential to Trump.

McCarthy and Scalise are jockeying to ingratiate themselves with the president in hopes he can help them win the race for the top GOP leadership post.

McCarthy, for example, is working closely with the president on a rescission package that would claw back spending in the $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed last month.

That idea, while popular with the president, has fallen flat in the Senate.

Republican senators hope Trump will stay out of the House leadership race.

“The president doesn’t need to bless the next Speaker,” said a third Republican senator who spoke on background. “It’s other people’s prerogatives. The president would be well advised to stay out of it.”