Speaker Paul D. Ryan laughed Tuesday when a reporter asked him if he thinks President Donald Trump should stop attacking special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“The special counsel should be free to follow through with his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely,” Ryan said. “I am confident that he’ll be able to do that. I’ve received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration.”
The Wisconsin Republican alluded to Trump in his answer but never mentioned him by name.
“We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country,” he said. “We have a justice system. And no one is above that justice system.”
Ryan was similarly defensive in answering questions on a range of other topics Tuesday, including the omnibus spending bill, sexual harassment policy and tariffs.
Watch: Ryan Talks Mueller, Tariffs
The speaker said work was still underway on the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill that lawmakers need to pass by Friday to avoid another government shutdown.
“We’re hoping to post today,” he said, echoing an ongoing optimism from lawmakers that negotiations on the spending will be completed soon — even though their timetable keeps slipping.
Ryan said lawmakers are not talking about another short-term continuing resolution. The government has been running on a series of stopgap funding measures since the fiscal year began Oct. 1.
Leadership had originally hoped to file the omnibus last Wednesday for a floor vote Friday, and then adjusted their expectation to a Monday filing. By midday Tuesday, several policy matters remained unresolved.
“There are 20 poison pills, plus other issues,” House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey said of the negotiations.
Asked if she thinks those matters can get resolved Tuesday, the New York Democrat said, “I have no idea.”
In the only specific question he fielded Tuesday morning related to the omnibus, Ryan was asked about a measure to strengthen existing reporting requirements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The so-called Fix NICS bill that lawmakers are discussing attaching to the omnibus does not include a provision House lawmakers included in their version to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry guns across state lines.
“I think we should do Fix NICS. I agree with Fix NICS,” Ryan said, but did not specify whether he supports it without the concealed carry provision. “That’s something we’re discussing with our friends on the other side of the aisle.”
Rep. Richard Hudson, the author of the concealed carry provision, said adding the Senate version of Fix NICS to the omnibus could mean losing Republican votes.
“A number of members signed a letter saying they wouldn’t vote for anything that didn’t have concealed carry in it,” the North Carolina Republican said.
Ryan was also asked about sexual harassment — another topic lawmakers have discussed addressing in the omnibus — but the question was not about the spending bill but whether the speaker supports revealing the names of members who’ve used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims.
“We think the bill that we passed is the right bill,” Ryan said. “We had a bipartisan bill that the House passed that was led by Jackie Speier, by Bradley Byrne, by Barbara Comstock. We like that bill. We think that’s the bill that should become law.”
When the reporter tried to point out that the bill doesn’t require that, Ryan said, “I support the bill because it was a carefully crafted compromise and we think it’s the right way to go.”
The speaker also had a tepid response when asked where things stand on exclusions for aluminum and steel tariffs.
“That’s a really good question. I wish I knew the answer to that,” Ryan said.
“We are hopeful and confident that the administration will continue to narrow their approach so it’s less broad-based and more focused on those who are perpetrating these unfair trade practices. So that’s really where this has to go,” he added. “They’re working on an exclusion and exemption system. We have not seen the details of that yet, but we are strongly encouraging the administration, let’s focus on the people who are perpetuating these unfair trade practices without hurting allies who are not cheating, who are not dumping.”