Ex-Speaker John A. Boehner used to say he was “a regular guy with a big job.” Boehner’s successor, Paul D. Ryan, seems even more intent on fitting that description.
So there he was, using the members’ bathroom outside the House chamber during a series of votes, and a public restroom in the basement of the Capitol during a meeting of the Steering Committee. Boehner used private restrooms and didn’t stray into public areas of the Capitol complex unless he had to.
In a week and a half as speaker, Ryan provided a few such glimpses of the type of leader he hopes to be: Someone who will maintain his routine and relationships as if his status has not changed dramatically.
Boehner closely curated his social group of fellow Republican lawmakers and opted not to spend off-hours with members for whom he didn’t particularly care. He wasn’t a regular at weekly whip dinners, which under Majority Whip Steve Scalise are catered affairs. His first week as speaker, Ryan was seen breaking bread — or in this case, barbecue — with his colleagues.
Members Weigh in on Ryan’s First Week
In another overture toward normalcy, Ryan will decline some of the perks of being speaker, such as the monthly $2,000 leadership expense allowance. It’s unclear what he’ll do with the extra $50,000 in salary he will make as speaker, since he won’t be using it on housing accommodations.
Congressional leaders get fancy suites in the Capitol proper but keep district-focused offices in the ancillary buildings. While Boehner didn’t often visit his satellite operation in Longworth, Ryan plans to continue sleeping in his Longworth digs so he can work out in the House gym.
When he’s home in Janesville, Wis., Ryan plans to continue his normal pastimes such as hunting and camping.
His approach to legislation may be an even clearer departure from that of his predecessor.
Ryan used the highway bill to show how a more open, freewheeling amendment process can still yield results: “Over these last four days, the House has debated more amendments than in the last four months combined,” he bragged at a Thursday news conference.
At a special members’ meeting, he essentially crowd-sourced ideas for how to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal 2016 in advance of the Dec. 11 deadline. House Republicans will continue these brainstorming sessions on various issues, with conferences being held more than weekly like under Boehner, a GOP leadership aide said.
Boehner was fond of saying he engaged his members in “family conversations” — a euphemism for party infighting — but ultimately the Ohioan led the conference in a traditional sense: He was in charge.
Ryan is trying to avoid squabbles among the different factions of the conference. He has put together an advisory group that will include at least two representatives from the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the moderate Tuesday Group.
In another effort to be more inclusive, Ryan has formed a separate task force to look at changes to the configuration of the Republican Steering Committee. He also plans to follow through on calls from members to facilitate a broad overhaul of official House GOP rules.
In his first week as speaker, Ryan delivered a subtle blow to the status quo by throwing his weight behind Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, to succeed him as chairman of Ways and Means. Brady had seniority but not the fundraising clout of his challenger, Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio. Under Boehner, Tiberi would have been the shoo-in. Ryan’s endorsement of Brady sent an important signal that the new speaker is playing by some new rules.
Still, longtime congressional observers dispute the idea that Boehner was any less relaxed or down-to-earth as speaker, and like Ryan, he enjoyed his routines, such as morning walks for coffee at the Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, and breakfast at Pete’s Diner, a greasy spoon on Capitol Hill where the employees know him as “John John.”
Their interactions with the press may not be so different, either, though Ryan tried to establish a rapport with congressional reporters in his first news conferences. Ryan asked journalists to identify themselves so he could place faces with names — and joked he’d only call on them for questions if they were part owners of the Green Bay Packers.
According the leadership aide, Ryan also plans to be a more familiar face and voice on TV and radio than Boehner. But Ryan has decided to continue Boehner’s policy of not speaking to reporters in hallways outside of organized events — the only similarity he would acknowledge.
“That’s the only way!” Ryan told reporters before disappearing down the Cannon Tunnel.