It took a big story to unseat Mark Zuckerberg’s Hill testimony as the top headline of the day — but the news of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) retirement was exactly that. Just three years after stepping into a role that Ryan never sought, the Wisconsin leader announced that he was leaving for another full-time job: dad.
Nineteen years into his congressional career, Speaker Ryan felt the tug of home in his heart. Contemplating on the fact that he lost his father at the same age his oldest is now — 16 — prompted a redirection. “My kids aren’t getting any younger,” the dad of three told reporters, “and if I stay, they’ll only know me as a weekend dad. That’s it right there.” To be clear, Ryan said this morning, “I am not resigning. I intend to fully serve my term as I was elected to do, but I will be retiring in January, leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe say very bright future.”
Ryan, who was just 28 when he was elected, had always been considered a rising political star. From working tables at Tortilla Coast to being elected Speaker of the House was a path even he couldn’t have predicted. “You all know I did not seek this job,” Ryan said, addressing reporters. “I took it reluctantly. But I have to thank my colleagues for giving me this opportunity and this honor. I have no regrets.” After the tumultuous reign of John Boehner, Ryan took the gavel with the goal to bring the fractured parts of the party together. Even now, with a record number of conservatives on the Hill, that’s been difficult – if not, at times, downright impossible.
Despite the struggle of presiding over a deeply divided House, Ryan managed to bring his caucus together when it counted, passing more pro-life bills out of the House than any of his recent predecessors. As he told the hundreds of thousands at the March for Life, “The pro-life movement is on the rise because we have love on our side. We believe every person is worthy of love and dignity.” And he believed that. Several times, he led to the charge to defund Planned Parenthood, passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act twice, the Conscience Protection Act twice, the Born Alive Survivor’s Protection Act, and last year’s House omnibus spending bill, which had more new values riders than ever before. Unfortunately for Paul Ryan, those – along with so much of the progress he tried to make on social issues — died in a Senate wasteland, where the Republican majority was either too slim or too comfortable with the status quo to finish the job.
In an era when the American people desperately wanted to repeal Obamacare, Speaker Ryan shepherded repeal bills through the House and finally made the sweeping tax reforms that motivated him to run for Congress to begin with. For Ryan, a self-described budget wonk, there was probably no greater thrill than overseeing the most significant tax changes since the Reagan era. During four standing ovations in this morning’s GOP meeting, he mentioned it among his proudest moments, along with giving the military a long-overdue funding boost.
Although Ryan’s announcement is only hours old, the race to replace the speaker is already well underway. The two leading contenders to pick up the gavel are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). While both men are friends and have solid conservative ideologies, this contest for House Speaker, which is primarily a contest among House members, will be more about the political process than political ideology. There is a lot of pent-up frustration among conservatives in the House that the GOP hasn’t fought harder to hold the line on core conservative principles — the latest example being the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. Conservative members, whose ranks have grown significantly since 2010, will demand greater representation within the circle of committee leadership and a more open process that allows members to freely debate and amend legislation.
What the House does in the next four to five months will determine who sits in the speaker’s chair. If the GOP continues its posture with votes on Balanced Budget Amendments rather than real efforts like a rescission proposal on the omnibus spending bill would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and chart a path toward a budget similar to the one the Trump administration presented, they may not have to worry about the speaker’s race. If Nancy Pelosi’s Party recaptures the majority in the House expect a revolution among the GOP members when it comes to their leadership.
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