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Nation & World

Paul Ryan’s hits, misses and too-soon-to-tells

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection and will retire in January.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection and will retire in January.

WASHINGTON – Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision to leave Congress next year will close a chapter to a whirlwind tenure as speaker and a record that has yet to receive a full reckoning.

The Wisconsin Republican took over the speaker’s gavel after John A. Boehner resigned in the face of increasing pressure from the more conservative wings of the House GOP caucus.

While initially not a candidate to succeed the Ohio Republican, Ryan emerged as the consensus pick for speaker after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy took himself out of the running.

As someone who focused mainly on policy, Ryan did not have a history of cajoling members or wrangling votes as other speakers who served as whips did.

While Ryan’s goal has been to advance conservative principles, Donald Trump’s candidacy and eventual victory upended much of his messaging.

Here’s an early look at how Ryan’s legacy might shape up:

Hits

Tax overhaul: With cuts to the corporate tax rate and temporary individual tax cuts, Ryan caught his unicorn. The tax legislation passed in December also repealed the individual mandate in the 2010 health care law. Even if Democrats take the House, they will likely be unable to undo major parts of the tax legislation.

Fundraising: Ryan consistently raised more money than his predecessor, much of it for endangered members.

Special elections: Republicans won all but one GOP-held open seat in special elections since Ryan became speaker.

Misses

Health care: Republicans ultimately failed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. While a bill passed the House, it died in the Senate.

Departures: The GOP will see a massive exodus of incumbents, including longtime committee leaders, after this term. More than 40 members, Ryan included, are not running for re-election.

Threading POTUS needle: Between Trump’s racially charged remarks, lewd comments and moving-target policy positions, Ryan never quite mastered the art of denouncing the president on the one hand and using him to political advantage on the other.

Spending: The passage of the fiscal 2018 omnibus package was met with conservative backlash, including from Trump.

Trade: As a free-market free trader, Ryan endured the president’s campaigning against and later jettisoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He then urged the president not to move forward on steel and aluminum import tariffs.

Approval: At one point last spring, Ryan polled lower than Trump.

To soon to tell

Sinking ship: Ryan will be leaving the House but Democrats have tried tying endangered Republicans to Ryan rather than Trump. Will he drag them down?

Blue wave: If the GOP loses the House in November, Trump and other Republicans could make Ryan the fall guy on his way out, without losing valuable relationships.

Remaining term: It’s unclear but highly unlikely that Ryan will be able to pass legislation related to curbing entitlement spending after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell poured cold water on the idea.

Russia: Ryan has consistently reassured people that Trump will not fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the Russia investigation. But if Mueller does get fired, Ryan may find that massaging his caucus to respond with significant steps could prove difficult.

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