The news site Politico reported Thursday that Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) plans to retire from Congress at the end of this term.
He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress. This would give Ryan a final legislative year to chase his second white whale, entitlement reform, while using his unrivaled fundraising prowess to help protect the House majority—all with the benefit of averting an ugly internecine power struggle during election season. Ryan has never loved the job; he oozes aggravation when discussing intraparty debates over “micro-tactics,” and friends say he feels like he’s running a daycare center. On a personal level, going home at the end of next year would allow Ryan, who turns 48 next month, to keep promises to family; his three children are in or entering their teenage years, and Ryan, whose father died at 55, wants desperately to live at home with them full time before they begin flying the nest. The best part of this scenario, people close to the speaker emphasize: He wouldn’t have to share the ballot with Trump again in 2020.
Ryan was an improbable choice for speaker, when he stepped up in October 2015 as the establishment’s last-ditch effort to block House conservatives from electing one of their own. At the time, the Wisconsin congressman had just taken over the Ways and Means Committee and was gearing up to overhaul the federal tax code for the first time since 1986.
In his two years, the speaker’s tenure has been marked by infighting and frustration, despite enjoying the largest Republican House majority in more than 80 years. Barring any unexpected victories, Ryan’s great achievements will have been bringing back the Export-Import Bank, a $350 highway pork bill and engineering a soft landing for the class of Puerto Rican bondholders represented by New York City billionaire Paul Singer, a major contributor to PAC’s associated with the speaker.
Given the unhappy state of the GOP House Conference, Ryan’s decision could not be described as a surprise. As the above excerpt plainly shows, the speaker and his circle have contempt for the conservatives, who make up the majority of the conference and President Donald J. Trump. Ryan’s wife, Janna, the one who grounds him, is a one-time lobbyist and the scioness of Oklahoma’s liberal Democratic Boren family.
Even in the summer, as Ryan struggled to hold together his 200-day legislative program that was supposed to have seen Obamacare repealed and replaced and tax reform complete by Labor Day, there was talk of Ryan moving on–talk that was disrupted by the June 14 shooting of Minority Whip Stephen J. Scalise (R.-La.).
Uncertainty surrounding Scalise’s recovery froze efforts to force Ryan out, because there was no way to negotiate with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R.-Calif.) or to bring in House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark R. Meadows (R.-N.C.) or his predecessor Rep. James D. Jordan (R.-Ohio) or anyone else–when nobody was sure if there would be one opening in the top three or two–and it was beyond rude to bring up the subject as the Louisiana congressman fought for his life.
Among House conservatives, Jordan and Meadows are very popular, but the feeling is that Meadows is a better leader, while Jordan is more ideologically committed.
Ryan’s early announcement gives his moderate allies time to maneuver, but given Scalise’s rising political profile and his success passing the national concealed carry reciprocity bill, it is hard to deny Scalise the promotion to majority leader or even speaker, depending on the ambitions of McCarthy.
McCarthy is widely popular in the conference and he has put behind him the gossip that torpedoed his coronation as speaker in the fall of 2015 and forced Ryan to leave the committee chairmanship he had craved since his days as a young aide to Jack F. Kemp.