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Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi Let Fly the Shark Jumping, Russia Zingers

Normally staid Thursday pressers get lively

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, pictured here, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi let loose the zingers at their Thursday news conferences. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, pictured here, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi let loose the zingers at their Thursday news conferences. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Thursday’s weekly House leadership press conferences were full of lively remarks, with Speaker Paul D. Ryan saying Democrats on the left “jumped the sharks” in their push to abolish ICE and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggesting Russia has leverage over President Donald Trump.

The Wisconsin Republican and California Democrat hold weekly press conferences every Thursday with reporters in the Capitol to discuss news of the week. Their answers are mostly predictable and often mundane but occasionally they bring some zeal.

Pelosi typically has far more zingers than Ryan, but the speaker came out swinging Thursday when asked about Democrats who want to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security. 

The speaker smirked and shook his head, then said, “They have really jumped the sharks on the left.”

ICE “is the agency that gets gangs out of our communities, that helps prevent drugs from flowing into our schools, that rescues people from human trafficking,” Ryan said. 

“They want to get rid of the agency? It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen,” he added. “And they are just — they’re tripping over themselves to move too far to the left. They are out of the mainstream of America. And that’s one of the reasons why I feel very good about this fall.”

Pelosi of course had plenty of criticisms for the GOP during her remarks, poking holes in the House Republicans’ new messaging campaign called “Better Off.”

“It’s only the well off who are better off from the GOP’s special interest agenda,” she said. “The American people aren’t better off from their flat, real wages as CEOs and shareholders hoard their tax scam with windfalls and denies workers the bigger paychecks they deserve and by some [were] promised.“ 

But the more memorable moment of Pelosi’s press conference was when she raised suspicions about Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit this week.

“All of the behavior of the president this week — as a continuation of his behavior before — begs the question that I have asked for 18 months: What do the Russians have on Donald Trump politically, financially and personally?” Pelosi said. “Because there’s no way to explain the disrespect he’s demonstrating to our NATO alliance.”

She called Trump’s behavior “very, very curious,” saying, “He castigates our friends, [and] coddles really our opponent in all of this.”

Trump’s upcoming meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin will be a failure if he doesn’t leave without ironclad assurances that the Kremlin will not interfere in future U.S. elections and attack our democracy, Pelosi said.

Ryan was also asked about the upcoming Trump-Putin summit. 

“I don’t have a problem with face-to-face meetings,” he said. “But I’ve made this — the president and I have talked about this a number of times — Vladimir Putin is not our ally and not our friend. I’ve made that clear. I think most of us feel that way.”

While engaging with Putin is “constructive and good,” Ryan cautioned that Trump needs to be “really clear” about whom he’s dealing with.

Immigration talk

Immigration was another hot topic during Ryan’s press conference. He defended his previous comments that a so-called compromise immigration the House rejected last month by a wide margin had a path to getting into law, saying his remarks were based on the fact that Trump would’ve signed the bill.

The speaker said there will eventually be a moment, likely after court decisions, when Congress is forced to act on immigration and he believes that legislation ultimately will resemble the rejected compromise bill because it incorporated four pillars Trump insisted on. He said those concepts of securing the border, addressing legal status for young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, ending the diversity visa lottery program and reducing family-based visas are reasonable, common sense solutions.

“Sometimes a policy is not ready for prime time,” Ryan said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not the right policy. That doesn’t mean it won’t eventually be arrived at.”

In the meantime, Congress is under pressure to pass a more narrow immigration bill to prevent family separations at the border and ensure the success of the reunification process that is under way for children who have been separated from their parents.

Ryan said leaders are seeking clarity from the administration on what’s needed legislatively to fully implement Trump’s family reunification executive order.

“I’m glad they’re being reunified,” he said. “We don’t want to see families separated. But we also want to control our borders and enforce our laws.”

House GOP leaders had also promised members that they’d hold a vote this month on expanding an agriculture guest worker program and requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of their employees. 

Some Republicans have raised concerns about moving that measure without legislative action on family reunification. 

“I’m not going to foreclose options on packaging,” Ryan said when asked if the two would need to be moved together for leaders to fulfill their promise on an guest worker/E-Verify vote.

Discussions with members on those issues are ongoing, Ryan said.

“What our members basically want to do is to take steps that are productive going forward,” he said.  

In the vein of trying to be productive, Ryan said he does not want immigration policy to get tied into a government funding fight this fall. Trump has signaled he will insist on funding for a wall along the Southern border, which Democrats would reject without a solution for Dreamers. 

While Ryan knows a solution on both is needed, he said he doesn’t think the fiscal  year should be the deadline for legislative action on those matters, saying immigration is distinctly separate from appropriations.

“I don’t think that road is a very fertile road,” he said. “I think this issue is probably going to be dealt with by the courts, meaning the deadline we get.”

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