Updated 1:25 p.m. | Rep. Mark Amodei, who dropped a bombshell Monday about a “rumor” that Speaker Paul D. Ryan might soon resign, knows comments like that are not made without consequence. He said so himself last week.
“I’m responsible for what I’m saying right now. Welcome to the world where words have impact,” the Nevada Republican told the Los Angeles Times in reference to a Reno high school student who used curse words when he called Amodei’s office, urging action on gun control. The school principal suspended the student after a staffer for the congressman reported the call. Amodei defended the staffer.
The incident itself was national news and among the topics Amodei was asked about Monday during a “Nevada Newsmakers” podcast. But it was his remark to the Los Angeles Times about the impact words can have that is particularly enlightening in relation to the rumor he was about to willingly spread on that same podcast.
At the opening of the third and final segment of the 25-minute podcast with hosts Sam Shad and Ray Hagar, the former noted that they hear a lot about the rumor mill in Washington, and asked Amodei what he was hearing in the House. It sounded a bit scripted.
Asking a lawmaker in an on-the-record, taped interview to comment on the Hill rumor mill is unusual and wouldn’t typically earn a response. Amodei, a third-term lawmaker, obliged.
“Under the heading of rumor mill — everybody remember that — the rumor mill is [that] Paul Ryan is getting ready to resign in the next 30 to 60 days and that Steve Scalise will be the new speaker,” he said.
“Now that’s interesting because nobody has talked to members [about] how they’re going to vote,” he continued, suggesting that if a leadership race was afoot he would’ve been approached by interested candidates. “Or maybe they’ve talked to all the members but me. So, I don’t know, that’s the rumor mill last week.”
Shad did not have an audible reaction to Amodei’s revelation. He just asked, “Why would Ryan resign?”
Amodei again indulged in speculation.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, if I was just guessing … he wanted to do the tax bill, you know. [Former Speaker] John Boehner kind of set the thing about, ‘Hey, when I checked all the boxes I thought were important, I’m moving on to whatever else.’ If it is, in fact, true, I know that Paul Ryan thinks he wants to play on the national stage in some capacity or another.”
Hagar then jumped in to ask if Ryan would next work for President Donald Trump in the White House or his Cabinet.
“You know what, Ray, you asked me, so I’m going to answer you,” Amodei said. “But I’m speculating from at least as far away as you are. And my speculation is this: The White House and Paul Ryan would probably not be a great fit. How’s that for a direct answer?”
Amodei said Ryan “was a ‘Never Trumper’ for a while” and suggested his relationship with the president was still fraught.
“I would be very surprised if there were open arms at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue for, ‘Come on into the administration, Mr. Cheese Guy,’” he said. (Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production.)
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According to one of the hosts, Amodei brought up the rumor about Ryan and Scalise during a commercial break.
“I asked the Congressman if I could bring it up in the last segment and he said yes,” Shad said in an email.
Amodei, when asked through his office why he would talk on the record about a rumor, offered this statement to Roll Call: “Seriously? Someone in the Washington press is concerned about an on-the-record statement that’s based on a beltway rumor? Wow.”
A report Hagar wrote on Amodei’s comments stirred congressional reporters into action on what was otherwise a sleepy news day in Washington, as most lawmakers were home in their districts or on foreign trips known as “CODELS,” short for congressional delegation.
Ryan was overseas in the Czech Republic, meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and U.S. Ambassador Stephen B. King. The speaker also visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, “to learn more about their work reporting in 20 countries without a fully-established free press, and particularly how they reach audiences in Russia,” according to a release from his office.
Before the free press back in Washington started to report on Amodei’s rumor, Ryan sat down for an interview with RFE on the other news of the day — the Trump administration’s decision to expel Russian diplomats.
The basic premise of Amodei’s remarks — that Ryan would resign as speaker — has been a topic of speculation for months. But the attachment of an imminent time frame and the naming of a successor were what drove Monday’s media frenzy.
Ryan’s staff was quick to reject the rumor.
“The speaker is not resigning,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.
Scalise’s staff sought to tamp down any assertion the majority whip was trying to push Ryan out the door.
“Whip Scalise is proud to serve alongside Speaker Ryan, and fully supports him to remain speaker,” spokeswoman Lauren Fine said. “Our whole leadership team is focused on working with President Trump to deliver more conservative wins for the country, and also ensuring we keep the majority so we can continue implementing President Trump’s agenda that is getting our economy back on track.”
Much of the speculation about Ryan’s future, which started late last year, revolved around whether he intended to stick around long enough to run for speaker again in 2019.
In December, Ryan said he wasn’t leaving “anytime soon” but declined to say if he would seek re-election in 2018.
In January, Ryan continued to face questions about his future, only to say he has not made a decision yet because it’s something he and his wife wait until the spring of every election year to discuss.
Spring has just begun, and it’s unclear if Ryan has even made that decision yet. Wisconsin’s filing deadline is not until June 1, right at the end of Amodei’s supposed 30- to 60-day timeline.
Deciding against re-election would render Ryan a lame duck speaker and affect his ability to continue serving as one of the GOP’s most prolific fundraisers. A leadership shakeup before the election could also be harmful to the party. That’s why much of the speculation about a potential Ryan departure has been focused on after the November midterms, regardless of whether House Republicans retain their majority.
Lawmakers and aides had no idea where Amodei’s rumor about an imminent Ryan resignation originated. The speaker hasn’t addressed the topic to the Republican Conference since December, when he combated media reports by telling his members he wasn’t going anywhere.
Amodei, an appropriator, was frustrated with Ryan over his handling of the omnibus spending bill, signed into law Friday, less than 48 hours after its introduction. He pointed out earlier in the Newsmakers podcast that was something Ryan had promised to avoid when he became speaker, calling the process “phenomenally disrespectful” to members.
“As a rank-and-file guy, it’s phenomenally frustrating to sit there and do that work and basically go, ‘Well, we’ll let you know what happened after we get together with those folks on the other side behind closed doors,’” Amodei said, using the same term, “phenomenal,” that Ryan used last week to describe the job he’s doing.
Perhaps more interesting was Amodei’s singling out of Scalise as Ryan’s potential successor.
The Louisiana Republican, currently the party’s No. 3 in the House, is likely to consider a run for speaker should the spot open. So, too, is the current No. 2, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Some rank-and-file members could also make a dark-horse run.
But to predict the candidates, let alone the winner, of a speaker’s race before the current leader even announces his departure is premature. Amodei’s phrasing in describing the rumor “that Steve Scalise will be the new speaker” — rather than the favored candidate — feels like an embellishment of actual rumors circulating on Capitol Hill.
Mentioning Scalise might suggest the majority whip or his supporters are trying to urge Ryan out or start a leadership race before there should even be one, potentially stirring up drama in the conference. Similar theatrics are playing out in the Democratic Caucus, where reports pushing Joseph Crowley, the caucus chairman, as a leading candidate to succeed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi should she resign have irked some Democrats.
Amodei made no secret of backing McCarthy’s 2015 bid to succeed Boehner when the Ohio Republican resigned. When McCarthy dropped out of the speaker’s race amid a lack of support from the conservative wing that helped push Boehner to the exits, Amodei issued a scathing statement of the state of the House Republican Conference.
“For those who expressed frustration and a desire for change, we have now … gotten rid of or denied promotion to all three Republican Conference leaders who served when I was sworn in 48 months ago,” he said. “I dare submit, those are significant occurrences in answering ‘What has changed?’”
Amodei went on to list the things the Republican Conference had accomplished amid the chaos and intraparty criticism, such as enacting spending controls and preventing tax increases, and overhauling the student loan system.
“So while it seems as if Rome is burning, the House Republican ‘fire department’ has done pretty good work when held to anything other than a perfection standard,” he said.
It would not be a giant leap to assume that Amodei would likely back McCarthy should he decide to run for speaker again.
McCarthy, through his leadership campaign account Majority Cmte PAC, donated $9,300 to Amodei in the 2016 cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org, but he also donated similar amounts to dozens of other House Republicans.
Scalise, through his Eye of the Tiger PAC, also donated to dozens of House Republicans in 2016, but Amodei wasn’t one of them. Neither Scalise nor McCarthy has donated to Amodei this cycle, according to data available on OpenSecrets.org.