- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday that he will retire from the House at the end of this year, closing out a two-decade career in Congress and igniting soul-searching in a party bracing for a rough election season.

Mr. Ryan rejected claims that he was fleeing a sinking ship. He predicted that Republicans will keep their House majority despite headwinds in November’s elections.

He vowed to be an active lame-duck speaker as he serves out his term, pushing for spending controls and the rest of the Republican agenda.

Mr. Ryan said his decision was about his family. He noted that he came to Congress from Wisconsin before his first child was born and now all three children are teens.

“If I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad,” he said. “I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life.”

His announcement kicked off jockeying among Republicans to fill his post. An informal push already had begun as rumors of Mr. Ryan’s retirement swirled.

SEE ALSO: Top job in the House up for grabs as Speaker Paul Ryan to retire

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana are seen as his most likely successors.

Some lawmakers and conservative groups urged a go-slow approach on choosing the next leader, particularly since Republicans’ position will not be clear until after November’s elections.

“I think it’s way too early for that,” said Rep. Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Republican. “If Paul Ryan’s not going to be here and be the speaker … we’re singularly focused on making sure Nancy Pelosi isn’t the next speaker — that’s what we have to be.”

Mr. Ryan said Republican electoral prospects didn’t enter his decision-making at all and predicted that the party would retain its majority.

He said he did consider proceeding with this election, so as not to feed stories of Republican despair, then resigning immediately afterward — but he concluded that would have been “the normal politician thing.”

“In order to serve the people in my district honorably, I have to serve them honestly. And for me to ask them to vote to re-elect me knowing that I wasn’t going to stay is not being honest,” he said.

Mr. Ryan has been speaker for about 2½ turbulent years. He faced down conservative rebellions and secured a large tax cut, but he failed to repeal Obamacare or lock down a deal on immigration.

He said he considered his biggest accomplishments to be tax cuts and last month’s omnibus spending bill that included a massive spike in Pentagon funding along with a big boost in domestic funding.

His biggest regret, he said, was failing to win changes to big social spending programs — though he said the House, under his leadership as a committee chairman and then as speaker, had done its part by passing “the biggest entitlement reform bill ever considered in the House of Representatives.”

Mr. Ryan, the Republican Party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said he thinks he is finished with elected politics for the immediate future — and potentially for good.

“Right now, the last thing I’m thinking about is running for something,” he said on CNN. “No plans to run for anything, and I really don’t think I’ll change my mind.”

After serving as a prominent critic of Donald Trump at times during the 2016 campaign, he became the president’s most effective ally on Capitol Hill by 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 against Mr. Trump and sideline conservatives who have resisted efforts to strike more liberal-leaning deals.

“When you have so many intransigent people in your caucus who say, ‘It’s my way or no way,’ and your job, even though you have deep beliefs, is to get something done, it’s hard. It’s hard,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Though Mr. Ryan soared to national prominence after 2010 with his budget blueprints that called for deep cuts to federal spending and major reforms to entitlement programs, his relationship with conservatives as speaker has been uneasy at times.

In addition to spending concerns, some members of the House’s right flank have said Mr. Ryan hasn’t lived up to pledges to take a more bottom-up approach, with more input from the rank and file, than Speaker John A. Boehner’s top-down approach.

Adam Brandon, president of the conservative activist group FreedomWorks, praised Mr. Ryan’s work in securing the tax cut but said the next speaker “must be willing to fight for real spending cuts and a return to regular order.”

“The status quo of the Republican Party is not sustainable,” said Mr. Brandon, adding that the next speaker has to work with conservatives “to make the GOP the party of free markets and limited government again.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, said he didn’t necessarily see the next speaker coming from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen hard-line conservatives that has clashed with Mr. Ryan in recent years over issues such as immigration and federal spending.

“But certainly the Freedom Caucus having a voice in leadership decisions and the agenda is important,” said Mr. Meadows, the caucus chairman, while cautioning that a leadership position has never been on his own “bucket list.”

Conservative members on Wednesday generally praised Mr. Ryan for his approach to the job and for helping win tax cuts last year. They said they would leave a more broad-based examination of his record for another time.

“While there are occasions where we have disagreements, obviously, he’s still the leader of the House here and he’s open to conversation, and we appreciate that,” Mr. Perry said.

“I fully expect for the duration of his term, he’s going to be here and lead and we’re going to obviously provide input, likely have some differences along the way [until] the end,” he said. “He’s still here leading.”

Still, Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, said part of Mr. Ryan’s legacy will be the ballooning federal debt and deficits.

“The tax bill’s not paid for,” he said, noting that independent budget watchdogs have said it could add as much as $2 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

He also said that either way, Congress wasn’t shaping up to do much for the rest of the year.

“I’m not sure we would have done much if he didn’t make the announcement today,” he said. “We haven’t done much at all.”

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