Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced Wednesday that he’ll retire from the House at the end of this year, ending a two-decade career in Congress and igniting more soul-searching for a GOP already bracing for a rough round of midterm elections in November.
He told colleagues of his decision at the weekly House GOP meeting, and then made the announcement public at a press conference later in the morning.
Mr. Ryan said he couldn’t stomach the time away from his family.
“If I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life,” he said.
Mr. Ryan added, though, that he plans to be an active lame-duck speaker: “I’m not done yet. I intend to run through the tape.”
And he said his decision had little to do with politics, predicting the GOP will hold the House in November no matter what.
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“We have a great record to run on, great economy, great accomplishments, more to do,” Mr. Ryan said.
Rumors of his departure had been circulating for months, and he and his aides had repeatedly denied them.
Several lawmakers are likely to compete to succeed him, including the No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and the No. 3 Republican, Whip Steve Scalise.
Mr. Ryan has been speaker for a little over two years, and has overseen a turbulent time, facing down conservative rebellions and securing a large tax cut, but failing to repeal Obamacare.
His goal of rewriting the federal budget to bring more accountability to social spending programs has also stumbled in the face of opposition even from within his own party.
And after serving as a prominent critic of President Trump at times during the 2016 campaign, he has become the president’s most effective ally on Capitol Hill, helping push the White House agenda.
“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!” Mr. Trump tweeted after the news broke.
Democrats said they hoped that Mr. Ryan, free from having to face voters, will now turn on Mr. Trump and his colleagues.
“With his newfound political freedom, I hope the Speaker uses his remaining time in Congress to break free from the hard-right factions of his caucus that have kept Congress from getting real things done,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Republicans, though, said they didn’t expect anything to change in Mr. Ryan, and doubted a lame-duck speaker would be a hindrance.
“We’re going to continue to rally behind him,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, who took over as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after Mr. Ryan gave up the post to ascend to speaker.
Mr. Brady said the announcement was a “tough day” for Republicans, but they knew Mr. Ryan wasn’t going to be a career congressman.
“I think the main reason for this is his family,” Mr. Brady said. “He’s never been a lifer.”
Mr. Ryan faced a tougher-than-usual election fight back home in Wisconsin this year, where several Democrats are battling to face him — and raising plenty of cash from liberal activists who saw ousting Mr. Ryan as the best way to send a signal to President Trump.
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told The Washington Times the announcement gives Democrats a much better shot of picking up the seat, which Mr. Ryan has held since 1999.
“WI-1 will be a Toss-up,” Mr. Kondik said.
Mr. Ryan faced a challenge for the seat from Paul Nehlen, a man with white supremacist ties who the state party severed ties with in 2018. His Twitter account was also suspended for anti-Semitism.
Mr. Ryan told big donors in private conversations early on in the Trump presidency that he was concerned about the GOP’s ability to defend the House and the picture has not gotten any rosier since.
GOP leaders were already slated to gather with Mr. Trump at the White House for dinner Wednesday night.