Politics

Paul Ryan Intends to Serve Out Term as Speaker, Hints at Endorsing Potential Successor

'I have more thoughts on this ... and I'll share those thoughts later,' Ryan said on who should be next speaker

The House GOP leadership team, from left, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., arrive for the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol as Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced he would not run for re-election, but would stay on as speaker until the end of the term. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Paul D. Ryan said he plans to remain speaker of the House through the end of the year when he plans to retire and indicated he will eventually endorse someone to succeed him.

“I have great confidence in this leadership team. That’s one thing that I’m really proud of,” Ryan said when asked who he thought should be the next speaker.

“I have more thoughts on this,” Ryan added. “I think this is probably not the right time to get into that, but I’ll — and I’ll share those thoughts later. That election is in November, so it’s not something we have to sweat right now.”

Leading candidates for speaker are expected to be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 and No. 3 in GOP leadership ranks, respectively.

Watch: Paul Ryan Announces His Retirement

Scalise has reportedly said he would not run against McCarthy, whose path to the speakership is not certain given his inability in 2015 after the resignation of former Speaker John A. Boehner to secure the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker on the floor. Ryan became the consensus candidate, despite initially declining to run.

Other high profile Republicans could seek to run for speaker or lower level leadership positions that would open up if McCarthy or Scalise were to ascend. Republican Conference Vice Chairman Doug Collins of Georgia, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas all declined to say whether they’d be interested in doing so. 

Ryan’s decision to stay on as a lame duck speaker has not happened in three decades. In recent years, particularly among Republicans, congressional leaders have resigned instead of riding out the remainder of their terms, as happened with former Speaker John A. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Speakers Dennis Hastert and Newt Gingrich.

“I know most speakers don’t go out on their own terms,” he said. But he cited former Speaker Tip O’Neill, who announced his retirement before the 1986 elections but stuck around until the end of his term, and former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who announced his retirement before the 2016 elections and did the same as O’Neill.

A Look Back at Paul Ryan’s Career in the House

Ryan acknowledged that waiting to announce his exit until after the November midterm elections is what he was supposed to do politically. He said he considered it but decided that he couldn’t in good conscience go out that way because it wouldn’t be fair to his constituents in Wisconsin.

“For me to ask them to vote to re-elect me knowing I wasn’t going to stay is simply not being honest,” he said. 

A lame duck speaker might not be ideal for the Republican Party in terms of fundraising and power to get things done, but Ryan downplayed his retirement’s impact on the broader midterm election landscape.

“I really don’t think a person’s race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan’s speaker or not,” he said.

Ryan was smiling as he walked up to the podium in the House studio to announce his plans to reporters. He reminded the press corps that he did not seek to be speaker and that he took the job “reluctantly.”

Nonetheless, Ryan said, “This has been one of the two greatest honors of my life.”

The other, he said is his role as a husband and a dad. He said he’s retiring to spend more time with his family, noting his kids weren’t even born when he was first elected to the House in 1998.

“If I’m here for one more term my kids will only ever have known me as a weekend dad,” he said. “I just can’t let that happen.”

Considering for months

Ryan first started talking to a small team of confidants about his exit from Congress late last year, before the tax overhaul bill was passed, according to a person familiar with the speaker’s decision.

Throughout the past several months Ryan weighed all options and as recently as February was still considering running for re-election. He made the final decision to retire over the Easter recess, which is the deadline he had set for himself to give time for Republicans to form campaigns if he did not run. Wisconsin’s filing deadline is June 1 but candidates can begin gathering signatures to get on the ballot starting April 15..

During the first week of the Easter recess Ryan visited the Czech Republic with his family. While he conducted official business there, Ryan paid his and his family’s travel costs for the trip so that they could vacation too. It was unclear if Ryan made his decision during that trip or later in the recess.

Before his announcement Wednesday, the only people Ryan shared his plan to retire with was a small group of staff, his wife and “maybe” his kids, the person familiar with his decision said. Ryan did not tell anyone in Wisconsin, where constituents and local GOP officials had told Roll Call last week that they did not think Ryan was planning to exit Congress.

On Wednesday morning Ryan spoke with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to inform them of his decision.

Ryan also told members of his leadership team — Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry — and held a call with Republicans in the Wisconsin delegation before informing the entire GOP conference of his decision Wednesday morning.

The speaker also held an all staff meeting before the GOP conference to share his plans with those who weren't in the small circle of staff who he had already told he would retire.

When Ryan took the speaker job he said he expected it to be his last job in politics and the person familiar with his decision expects that remains the case. The person said Ryan has not decided what to do after he retires and will not make that decision until January.

Ryan will continue to raise money for the Republican Party and campaign for House Republicans, the person said.

House Republicans’ agenda will go on unimpeded and Ryan’s decision making regarding that will not change, the person said. The next big agenda item always was and will continue to be an overhaul of welfare and poverty programs.

Ryan is not retiring because of any personal scandals or health issues, the person said.

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