The White House may not join in on the long line of people begging Paul D. Ryan to take the speaker’s gavel, but that may just be to avoid tarnishing his image on the right. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on the Ryan speculation specifically on Tuesday, but he did have plenty to say about Republican Party dynamics.
“It's unlikely that an endorsement of anybody, by me from here, would be helpful to any Republican's candidacy,” he noted. “So, rather than try to navigate that twisted knot of political complexity, I'm just going to let Republicans decide for themselves who they believe should lead the Republican conference.”
No Endorsements From White House on Speaker Race
The Ways and Means chairman long ago went from being the bogeyman for the Democrats to a dealmaker and occasional partner, and if he were to take the gavel, it might raise the odds of another significant legislative accomplishment or two before President Barack Obama leaves office.
Years ago, Ryan’s budget plans became the whipping post for congressional Democrats and the president. Obama torched Ryan's budget in April 2011 at a speech at George Washington University, with Ryan sitting in the audience. It was something Obama later regretted. Ryan also sparred sharply with Obama during a public summit at Blair House over health care policy in 2010, and faced attacks again from Democrats in 2012 as Mitt Romney's running mate.
But Ryan has often balanced his ideologically bold blueprints with realpolitik. Like John A. Boehner of Ohio, he spoke reluctantly on the House floor in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 — something no Republican considered a smart move politically but one he thought at the time might be critical to avoiding another Great Depression.
And in Obama’s second term, Ryan has been front-and-center for nearly every success — and failure — of the Congress. In 2013, Ryan cut a modest two-year budget deal that brought a respite to shutdown showdowns, while keeping discretionary spending at a smaller percentage of the economy than it’s been at in generations.
In 2014, Ryan was one of just 18 House Republicans to sign on to Boehner's immigration principles , including support for a pathway for unauthorized immigrants to stay here legally, but the effort imploded after fellow Republican "Young Gun," then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, lost his primary.
Ryan, of course, has already been at the center of much of the legislative action on Capitol Hill this year — including the passage of Trade Promotion Authority, the looming votes to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiations on a highway bill and the earlier "doc fix" Medicare tweaks. And he has jurisdiction over the principal items that would be at the heart of any budget deal — entitlements and revenue.
In recent months, when the White House is talking about Ryan, it has been on positive terms. Earnest repeatedly refers to the Ryan-Murray budget deal of 2013 as his go-to talking point for what should happen again this year.
Whether Ryan becomes speaker or not, Earnest expressed hope that the next speaker will take on the GOP right.
“Whomever that person is, they will face the same kind of challenge that Speaker Boehner has faced for the last several years, which is that there is a small but loud contingent in the Republican Conference, that time and again, has put their own, rigid extremist ideology ahead of effective government that's clearly in the best interest of middle class families all across the country,” Earnest said Tuesday.
“And while it's easy to hold those extremists liable for the dysfunction that we see in Congress, the fact is, the majority of the Republican Conference could do something about it.
“They could stand up to those extremists in their own conference, or they could do the thing that's actually, clearly in the best interest of the country, which is rather than insisting that every important thing that happens in Congress get down along party lines, actually try to cooperate with Democrats on something.”