WASHINGTON ― Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) looked to reassure the voters he worked to secure for President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday, tamping down rumors of division between himself and Trump and arguing that congressional Republicans are ready to “go big, go bold.”
Ryan said he had spoken to Trump twice in the past 18 hours ― twice to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, too ― and reported that he had “great conversations about how we work together.”
The speaker mentioned Obamacare as an immediate issue Republicans could tackle, noting that the GOP had already demonstrated it can get a bill to the president’s desk that functionally dismantles the 2010 health care law via budget reconciliation, as well as legislation on jobs and the environment.
Underneath all the happy talk, however, are big questions about Ryan’s future. Anyone who says they know what happens with any type of certainty is lying. We don’t know if Ryan will actually elect to stay. We don’t know if Trump will try to push Ryan out. We don’t know if conservatives will argue for a clean slate.
For now, Trump seems to have taken a more conciliatory tone with his political rivals, and Ryan appears genuinely interested in seeing what Congress and a Republican president can accomplish.
There is a definite sense of the dog who caught the car here. Republicans haven’t let up on criticizing Obamacare ― Ryan said Wednesday morning that the law was “collapsing under its own weight” ― but they’ve failed for years to actually put forward a plan that would replace the bill, knowing that even laying out what that would take could have disastrous political ramifications for their party.
Republicans have also increasingly grown uncomfortable with raising the debt ceiling without substantive, potentially painful changes in government spending. With control of both chambers in Congress and the White House, Republicans are now negotiating with Republicans, and failing to raise the debt ceiling would have catastrophic consequences.
Even Ryan must be wondering about his role in a Trump presidency. As many times as he stood up to Trump, those criticisms were empty. Ryan signaled to voters that Trump was just another Republican, and all the campaigning that Ryan did in the final days of the election in Wisconsin to help get Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and other Republicans elected might have helped to normalize Trump. In a state where Trump and Hillary Clinton were separated by 27,000 votes, it’s hard not to argue that the extremely popular Ryan might have made the difference for Trump in that state, and indeed the nation.
In the immediate-term, Ryan said he was working to schedule a time to sit down with Trump to coordinate on the lame-duck session. Government spending runs out in December, and with a Republican president taking the reins in January, congressional Republicans may want to have Trump be the one who signs a spending package, potentially full of riders Republicans have long wanted.
As for the fault lines between Ryan and Trump, he dismissed those concerns and said America should be focused on going forward in “a time of redemption, not recrimination.”
Asked about his previous struggles with Trump, Ryan shrugged it off. “I don’t worry about intra-party issues,” he said.