Politics

Ryan on Trump: Members Should 'Do What's Best for You'

Speaker won't defend or campaign with billionaire

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds his weekly press conference in the Capitol on Sept. 29. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan told House Republicans Monday that he will not defend GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump or campaign with him for the next 30 days, and that members should respond to controversy surrounding the billionaire in whatever way is needed to win their districts.

“You all need to do what’s best for you in your district,” the Wisconsin Republican told House Republicans on a conference call Monday morning, according to a source on the call.

Ryan and GOP leaders held the call to discuss the current political landscape with their caucus. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden also spoke, the source said.

The call comes three days after The Washington Post released a video of Trump from 2005 making lewd remarks about women and asserting he can get away with grabbing their genitals and other actions because he’s a celebrity.

Since the video’s release more than 30 Republican lawmakers have withdrawn their support of Trump, with many calling on their party’s standard-bearer to drop out of the race. 

[Dent: Pressure on GOP Leaders to Pull Away From Trump]

However, most lawmakers who participated in Monday’s conference call were saying House Republicans should stick with Trump, according to one member who was on the call. A few suggested members send money to the NRCC to help with House races.

Only one of roughly a dozen members that spoke up suggested the GOP dump Trump and that the party should be prepared for more revelations about the nominee to emerge, the member said, speaking anonymously to discuss the private call.

Walden discussed the landscape for House races and the prognosis wasn’t good for Republicans. 

“I think he made pretty clear that the environment was not moving in our direction, that erosion was occurring,” the member said. 

No one explicitly said that control of the House was now in play in November but that was an implicit message, the member said.

Ryan’s position seems to reflect concern about House races and a fear that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton may win the presidency.

The speaker said his energy over the coming month would be spent on ensuring Clinton does not get a “blank check” with a Democrat-controlled Congress, according to the source, who also spoke anonymously to discuss the private call.

Ryan issued a statement Friday night saying he was “sickened” by the comments Trump made on the video. The speaker also disinvited Trump from a campaign event in his district Saturday, which would have marked their first public campaign appearance together.

Instead, Ryan will continue to hit the trail with House and Senate Republican candidates. His October campaign schedule includes stops in 17 states and 42 cities, with more events being planned between now and the election.

“The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said following the conference call.

As to whether Ryan will maintain his endorsement of Trump, Strong said, “There is no update in his position at this time.”

Trump reacted to Ryan’s decision to distance himself, tweeting, “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”

Some members on the call also questioned Ryan’s strategy. 

“When there was a little push back on that, Paul actually clarified, said he’s not withdrawing his endorsement of Donald Trump at all, but that he just feels … he should be focusing on reelecting Republicans,” New York Republican Peter King said on MSNBC. 

King, who said he is still supporting Trump, downplayed reports of members being angry with Ryan, saying that members understand he’s doing what he feels he needs to as speaker.

“He has the big picture to look at and again he has a whole different variety of Republicans across the ideological spectrum,” King said.

Ryan told members his decisions are being driven by what is best for the conference, not himself, and that he is willing to endure political pressure to protect the House Republican majority, according to the source. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have tried to link House Republicans to Trump. Speaking on CNN Sunday evening, Pelosi, D-Calif., reiterated her belief that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference in terms of policy” between Trump and the lawmakers and suggested that any lawmakers’ efforts to distance themselves now will fail.

“They tolerated all the trash that he dished out for a long time and now all of the sudden it’s impacting their political future so they’re sanctimonious about it,” she said. “But as I say, they can run, they can’t hide.”

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