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Paul Ryan Pushes Back on Pressure for Early Exit

Republican leaders defend capabilities amid caucus disagreements

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., left, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have had to answer tough questions about the future of the House leadership situation and reports of McCarthy's role in pushing Ryan aside. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., left, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have had to answer tough questions about the future of the House leadership situation and reports of McCarthy's role in pushing Ryan aside. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan defended himself Tuesday amid reports of threats to his leadership position and reiterated his view that it’s not in Republicans best interest to have a divisive leadership race before the November midterm elections.

“Obviously I serve at the pleasure of the members; those are the people who drafted me in this job the first place,” the Wisconsin Republican said when asked if he is confident he will remain speaker through the election. “But I think we all agree the best thing for us is to complete our agenda and not wedge into the completion of our agenda divisive leadership elections.”

One report from Politico said top Republicans were questioning Ryan’s effectiveness as speaker and arguing that he’s lost some juice now that he’s a lame duck. Other news articles have raised similar questions, although, when asked publicly, most members say they disagree that Ryan is any less effective now and believe he should stay in his role.

“The members drafted me into this job because of who I am and what I stand for,” Ryan said.

In the wake of the defeat of the farm bill on the floor Friday, the speaker outlined Republicans’ coming floor schedule. Just this week, the chamber will consider the National Defense Authorization Act, a banking overhaul bill, a measure to provide expanded access to experimental medical treatments and legislation to overhaul the prison system and reduce recidivism rates.

Ryan and McCarthy Deny Reports of Leadership Coup

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Having a leadership election at this time would distract from Republicans’ agenda, Ryan argued.

Another report from The Weekly Standard suggested that Ryan’s No. 2 and preferred pick to succeed him after the elections, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has been in talks with top Republicans including President Donald Trump about pushing Ryan out early.

“I read that report; that report is not true,” McCarthy said standing alongside Ryan during the GOP leadership’s weekly news conference.

“I think you’re building something in that’s not out there,” the Californian added.

When that story broke on Monday, McCarthy vehemently denied it and any assertion he was trying to force Ryan to vacate his post.

Both Ryan and McCarthy dismissed the assertion that Friday’s farm bill failure calls the speaker’s leadership capabilities into question.

Reiterating what has become the party line, McCarthy said that measure was universally opposed by Democrats and thus Republicans had to pass it on their own, which they failed to do. Ryan asserted that sometimes farm bills hit a lot of speedbumps before eventually passing.

“Obviously last Friday was regretful,” Ryan said. “Obviously we did not want to see members take down the farm bill.”

The House Freedom Caucus sunk the farm bill over demands that GOP leaders schedule their preferred immigration bill, which they felt leadership was unwilling to meet.

Ryan noted that when was elected speaker, he said leadership would sometimes bring bills to the floor without knowing whether they’d pass.

“It’s going to be a messy process at times,” he said, adding, “That’s the way the system works. Having said all that, what we’re trying to do is find where the consensus sweet spot is [on immigration]. It’s a very difficult issue.”

Ryan declined to get into ” the procedural if ands or buts” regarding a dispute between conservatives and moderates over the type of rule that would be used to bring up immigration. The rule dispute was among the reasons why the Freedom Caucus objected to an offer from leadership that adhered to their request for a scheduled vote on a conservative immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte.

“What we we want to do is act like a majority and be able to make sure that people can have the votes they’re looking for,” he said.

“But more importantly I think it’s in our interest to have a process that can produce a result that has a chance at law, and it really makes no sense to me to have a process that guarantees that law will not be made,” Ryan added, referring to a discharge petition from moderate Republicans and Democrats that GOP leaders are loath to allow to move forward.

Ryan expressed similar sentiments about the farm bill debacle to the Republican Conference during its weekly meeting Tuesday as he did to reporters.

“He just said he’s disappointed that the majority didn’t act as a majority with the farm bill and we have co-mingled immigration in with the farm bill and we shouldn’t be doing things like that,” New York Rep. Chris Collins said.

While Ryan was originally not planning to be at the conference because his son’s graduation 8th grade graduation is Tuesday, he decided it was important to address the members after Friday’s farm bill failure, Collins said, noting Ryan is still flying home later Tuesday to make the graduation.

Rep. Mark Amodei said he was surprised to hear Ryan use the word “crap” during his remarks on the farm bill — evidence of his frustration.

“I would have said guano, but he said crap,” the Nevada Republican said.

Ryan’s “strong statement” of disappointment on the farm bill vote reflects the view of many members, Rep. Bradley Byrne said.

“The real problem is there two groups on opposite sides of the immigration issue that are having a hard time coming together,” the Alabama Republican said, referring to hardline conservatives in the Freedom Caucus and moderates in the Tuesday Group.

“The rest of us, which is the vast majority of the conference, are pretty frustrated with that,” Byrne said. “We feel there are some people that need to let their egos go and deal with issues as we best can in the circumstances and quit trying to get perfection, because we’re not going to get perfection.”

Several members said the conference discussion included few details of the path forward for immigration.

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