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Ryan Doesn’t See Trump Debt Ceiling Tweet As Personal Attack

Speaker acknowledges leadership did consider attaching debt ceiling to veterans bill

President Donald Trump Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have largely avoided public tension since the campaign until Trump targeted Ryan in a Thursday tweet about the debt ceiling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have largely avoided public tension since the campaign until Trump targeted Ryan in a Thursday tweet about the debt ceiling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday found himself the target of one of President Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time since the campaign, but he said he didn’t regard it as an attack.

Trump tweeted that he asked Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to tie a debt ceiling increase to a recently passed veterans bill, but they didn’t.

“So now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval,” he said in the second of two tweets on the subject. “Could have been so easy-now a mess!”

Ryan was asked about the tweet in an interview on CNBC’s Power Lunch Thursday.

“I don’t really take it as going after me,” he said. “Look, that’s an option we were looking at, but the VA deadline came up and we weren’t able to do that then.”

The speaker reiterated that Congress will pass a debt ceiling increase before the deadline, noting there are “plenty of options in front of us; that one wasn’t just available to us.” He did not elaborate on why that plan couldn’t come to fruition.

Asked if a clean debt ceiling increase was one of the options for addressing the debt limit, Ryan said he would not negotiate through the media. But he offered this promise: “We will get this done.”

Trump in recent weeks has criticized McConnell on Twitter and elsewhere, primarily for his failure to shepherd a health care overhaul through the Senate.

‘The relationships are fine’

Both McConnell and the White House have tried to tamp down talk of tension between GOP leaders. 

“I think the relationships are fine,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Trump’s rapport with McConnell and Ryan. She said there are some “policy differences” but the trio has “a lot of shared goals.”

Ryan had stayed out of Trump’s crossfire while he was taking shots at McConnell in recent weeks. But the speaker knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of critical Trump tweets and public comments. 

During the 2016 campaign, Ryan was slow to get on board the Trump train, initially declining to endorse him after he secured enough votes to clinch the Republican nomination.

After Ryan did endorse Trump, he was cautious in how he reacted to Trump’s inflammatory campaign remarks. But when a video was leaked of Trump talking about grabbing women’s genitals, Ryan did not stay quiet, refusing to defend his party’s nominee and urging his members to do what they felt was needed

This prompted Trump to attack Ryan on Twitter and TV. In one October tweet, Trump said Ryan should “spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”

But after Trump won the election, he and Ryan quickly resolved their differences. In December, Trump even defended Ryan from boos during a Wisconsin rally, saying that he had come to appreciate the House speaker and comparing Ryan to a “fine wine.”

Since then, Trump has had nothing but nice things to say about Ryan — until Thursday’s debt ceiling tweet. Tensions could easily mount between the two during high-stake September negotiations on raising the debt limit and funding the government. 

Ryan has already signaled a divide on the latter issue, calling Trump’s threat to shutdown the government if he doesn’t secure border wall funding unnecessary.

Tax talk

Ryan’s CNBC interview also touched on taxes, as it was filmed from a Boeing manufacturing site in Everett, Washington, part of a promotion swing Ryan made this week to talk about GOP plans to overhaul the tax code. 

The speaker’s ability to focus the message solely on taxes was made difficult by Trump’s public comments on other topics, particularly in regards to the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Still, Ryan tried to promote the tax overhaul, something Trump too says he wants, as a priority Republicans must fulfill to grow the economy and create jobs.

The speaker dismissed talk of a tax overhaul being temporary due to limitations of the budget reconciliation rules, which Republicans plan to use to advance the tax overhaul with a simple-majority vote in the Senate.

“We very passionately believe that permanence is very, very important,” Ryan said, noting the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees that have jurisdiction over taxes both share that belief.

Ryan spoke about the roughly $2 trillion in profits that U.S. companies have parked overseas, largely to avoid paying taxes, saying the best way to get at that money is a “one-time deemed tax.” This would be a mandatory tax that companies would have to pay, regardless of whether they actually repatriate the money to the United States. 

“You tax overseas profits once, it’s done; all that money is deemed repatriated and from thereon out you have a territorial system,” Ryan said. 

On the individual side of the code, Ryan reiterated that the GOP wants to retain tax incentives for homeownership, charitable giving and retirement savings but suggested there may be changes to what’s currently in the code.

“I think you can actually improve those policies by cleaning some of those up,” he said. 

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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