Paul Ryan Makes It Official — He’s Out
Speaker of the House explains decision not to run for re-election, adding to GOP storm clouds as 2018 midterm elections approach
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced Wednesday that he will not run for re-election, ensuring that the House will get its third leader in four years.
Ryan, who reluctantly agreed to take the speaker’s gavel in 2015, told his colleagues and then reporters that family considerations weighed heavily on his decision to leave Congress. He said his oldest child was 13 when he became speaker, and that all of his children now are teenagers.
“If I’m here for one more term, my kids will only know me as a weekend dad,” he said. “I just can’t let that happen.”
Ryan took over during a tumultuous period, when the 2016 presidential election was just getting started and House Republicans were beset by infighting. Then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), dogged by the conservative wing of the GOP caucus, abruptly resigned his seat, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) could not amass quite enough support to move up.
Ryan agreed to take the job but only under conditions, including one that not all of his time would be consumed by his responsibilities.
"You realize something when you take this job. It's a big job with a lot riding on you, and you feel it," he said Wednesday. "But you also know that this is a job that does not last forever. You realize that you hold the office for just a small part of our history. So you better make the most of it. It's fleeting."
Ryan said he believes Republicans have "achieved a heckuva lot." Chief among those accomplishments are tax reform and rebuilding the military.
"These I see as lasting victories that will make this country more prosperous and more secure for decades to come," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Ryan on the Senate floor, calling him a "transformational conservative leader" whose legacy would be the "generational accomplishment" of tax reform.
"Amidst all the stresses and pressures of leadership, Paul's optimism and energy never faded," he said.
Ryan will leave office with a ton of campaign money in the bank. His political operation crowed just this week about raising $11.1 million in the last quarter, bringing the total for the cycle for "Team Ryan" to $54 million — a record amount for a speaker's political organization.
Ryan transferred more than $40 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee for use in the 2018 midterm elections.
House Republicans praised Ryan’s service. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a House Freedom Caucus member who had expressed apprehension about the prospect of his leading the House before he became speaker, told LifeZette on Wednesday that he made the same decision to spend more time with his own family when he was a member of the Alabama Legislature.
"I know, from personal experience, that Paul Ryan made the right decision," he wrote in a message to LifeZette.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) called on Ryan to finish his term strong.
"I'm grateful to the president for giving us this opportunity to do big things to get this country on the right track."
"As we look to the future we must also be diligent with the present working on the impending concerns of reining in Washington's spending, balancing our budgets, providing second chances through criminal justice reform, and working to restore the hope and opportunity of the American dream," he said in a statement.
Ryan has had an uneasy relationship with President Donald Trump, once referring to then-candidate Trump's comments about a judge of Mexican heritage as "textbook racism."
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), an outgoing moderate, told CNN that many Republicans are feeling "exhaustion" in the Trump era.
"There's a lot of weariness, and a lot of exhaustion, frankly," he said. "This is going to be a challenging year."
But Ryan insisted Wednesday that his relationship with Trump played no role in his decision.
"I'm grateful to the president for giving us this opportunity to do big things to get this country on the right track," he said.
Trump praised Ryan on Twitter: "Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!"
Asked about the potential consequences of his tax cut achievement — higher debt levels, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office this week — Ryan pointed to his one big regret. That would be a failure to reform Social Security, Medicare, and the other big drivers of federal government spending.
"Entitlement reform is the one other great thing that I've spent most of my career working on," he said. "I am extremely proud of the fact that the House passed the biggest entitlement reform bill ever considered in the House of Representatives."
But the Senate did not follow suit.
Ryan's impending departure adds to the gathering headwinds facing Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm elections. He is one of 37 Republicans not running for re-election.
But Ryan argued Republicans have a "very bright future" and said the GOP's prospects did not factor into his decision.
"If we do our job, which we are, we're gonna be fine as the majority … We're gonna have a great record to run on," he said.