While the role House Speaker Paul Ryan will play in the next Congress is an open question, the Wisconsin Republican on Wednesday morning said that the election of Donald Trump as the next US president and the preservation of GOP majorities in both houses of Congress next year offers the opportunity to press forward aggressively with a broad policy agenda that he has had a major role in crafting over the past two years.
Describing Trump’s victory as a “mandate,” at a press conference in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, he added, “The opportunity is to go big, to go bold, and to get things done for the people of this country.”
He predicted the imminent repeal of the Affordable Care Act and promised that a “unified Republican government” would roll back environmental regulations, land use rules, and myriad other elements of the federal regulatory system.
“It’s not just the healthcare law we can replace,” he told reporters. “There are so many more things that I’m excited about. Think about the laid-off coal workers now who see relief coming. Think about the farmers here in Wisconsin who are being harassed by the EPA and by the Waters of the US [regulations]. Think about the ranchers in the West who are being harassed by the Interior Department, or the laid off timber workers. There is relief coming. This is good for our country.
“This means we can lift the repressive weight of the regulatory state. We can restore the Constitution. Think about the conservative constitution-respecting judges that will be nominated. This is very exciting.”
Ryan suggested that the blueprint for Republican policy initiatives when the next Congress convenes in January will be the “Better Way” plan that he rolled out early in the presidential campaign.
“It will help us hit the ground running as we work with Donald Trump to do this,” he said, adding that the plan is built on what he described as the principles of “liberty, freedom, free enterprise, and consent of the governed that Republicans will “apply...to the problems of the day.”
Ryan’s Better Way plan is broad, covering subjects as diverse as tax reform, entitlement reform, national security, healthcare, the economy, federal regulatory reform and cutting government spending. It is, in large part, a presentation of long-cherished conservative policy goals that have been systematically stymied over most of the past decade by Democratic control of the levers of power in Washington.
However, whether or not Ryan will be in a position to enjoy the GOP’s ascension to unchallenged power in Washington is something of an open question.
During the presidential election, Ryan angered many Republicans with his lukewarm support for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He was slow to endorse the nominee, tepid when he did, and frequently disavowed or criticized the candidate’s actions during the campaign. As the campaign neared its end and an embarrassing videotape showing Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women surfaced, Ryan announced that he would no longer support or campaign with Trump, though he would still vote for him.
Ryan reversed himself in the final days of the campaign, writing op-eds in support of Trump and offering to make a late campaign appearance with him, but it’s unclear how far that went toward undoing some of the damage he did to his reputation with Trump’s staunchest supporters. There have been rumblings from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus that Ryan ought to face a challenge to his speakership in the next Congress.
For his part, Ryan insisted Wednesday that his relationship with Trump is strong, pointing out at least twice that he has spoken with the president-elect two times since Tuesday night.
“We talked about the work ahead of us and the importance of bringing this country together,” he said. “Let me just say, this is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime.”
He credited the president-elect with saving the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, saying he “provided the coattails that got a lot of people over the finish line.
How Donald Trump and his supporters will view Ryan over the coming months, and how much confidence the president-elect will express in him as he makes a bid for another speakership is questionable.
Trump’s campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, backed a group that mounted a primary challenge against Ryan in this election, and there is considerable evidence, even beyond that, that he neither likes nor trusts the Wisconsin Republican.
Bannon, who took a leave of absence from the ultra-conservative Breitbart.com website to run the Trump campaign, was well known to his staffers for his intense dislike of the Wisconsin Republican.
Last month, The Hill newspaper reported that former Breitbart employees remember hearing Bannon refer to Ryan as “the enemy” on conference calls. In an internal email obtained by the newspaper, Bannon wrote in December 2015 that his goal was to have Ryan “gone [from the speakership] by Spring.”
However, Ryan can probably rely on his close friend, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, for support, and it appears that Priebus also has Trump’s ear. A Wisconsinite like Ryan, it was Priebus who organized the RNC’s ground game, which replaced the one Trump’s campaign failed to build.
Trump singled out Priebus for praise during his victory speech early Wednesday morning, and reports have suggested that he is being considered for a top spot in the administration, such as White House chief of staff.
The decision about whether or not to fully support Paul Ryan as the top Republican leader in the 115th Congress may turn out to be one of the first major political battles within the nascent Trump administration. But it surely won’t be the last.