Last night, Paul Ryan reversed his earlier decision to stay out of the House Speaker’s race, and declared that, if chosen as a “unity candidate” among the factions currently warring over Speaker choices, he would gladly serve as Speaker.
There is, of course, a catch.
According to a statement released by Ryan’s office last night after the meeting where he proposed his plan, Ryan has requested some difficult concessions from his colleagues in return for joining their leadership. He wants to serve with the consent of the full Republican contingent, who must promise that legislative success will be their top priority. He wants weekends off. And he wants the Republicans to agree to change some “rules and procedures” in order to better facilitate leadership, including a change that would require Republicans to “stand down” on challenges to the leadership post.
“Tonight, I shared with my colleagues what I think it will take to have a unified conference and for the next speaker to be successful.
“Basically I made a few requests for what I think is necessary, and I asked to hear back by the end of the week.
“First, we need to move from being an opposition party to a proposition party. Because we think the nation is on the wrong path, we have a duty to show the right one. Our next speaker needs to be a visionary one.
“Second, we need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative. This is, after all, the people’s house. But we need to do it as a team. And it needs to include fixes that ensure we don’t experience constant leadership challenges and crisis.
“Third, we, as a conference, should unify now, and not after a divisive speaker election.
“The last one is personal. I cannot and will not give up my family time. I may not be able to be on the road as much as previous speakers, but I pledged to make up for it with more time communicating our message.
“What I told the members is, if you can agree to these requests, and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve. And, if I am not unifying, that is fine as well. I will be happy to stay where am, at the Ways and Means Committee.
“Here is how I see it. . . .
“It is our duty to serve the people the way they deserve to be served. It is our duty to make the tough decisions this country needs to get back on track.
“The challenges we face today are too difficult and demanding for us to turn our backs and walk away.
“Global terror . . . wars on multiple fronts . . . a government grown unaccountable, unconstitutional, and out-of-touch . . . persistent poverty, a sluggish economy, flat wages and a sky-rocketing debt.
“But we cannot take them on alone. Now, more than ever, we must work together.
“All of us are representatives of the people—all the people. We have been entrusted by them to lead.
“And yet the people we serve do not feel that we are delivering on the job they hired us to do. We have become the problem. If my colleagues entrust me to be speaker, I want us to become the solution.
“One thing I’ve learned from my upbringing in Janesville is that nothing is ever solved by blaming people. We can blame the president. We can blame the media. We can point fingers across the aisle. We can blame each other. We can dismiss our critics and criticism as unfair.
“People don’t care about blame. They don’t care about effort. They care about results. Results that are meaningful. Results that are measurable. Results that make a difference in their daily lives.
“I want to be clear about this. I still think we are an exceptional country with exceptional people and a republic clearly worth fighting for. It’s not too late to save the American idea, but we are running out of time.
“Make no mistake: I believe that the ideas and principles of results-driven, common-sense conservatism are the keys to a better tomorrow—a tomorrow in which all of God’s children will be better off than they are today.
“The idea that the role of the federal government is not to facilitate dependency, but to create an environment of opportunity. . . . for everyone.
“The idea that the government should do less. . . . And do it better.
“The idea that those who serve should say what they mean and mean what they say.
“The principle that we should determine the course of our own lives . . . instead of ceding that right to those who think they are better than the rest of us.
“Yes, we will stand and fight when we must. And this presidency will surely require that.
“A commitment to our natural rights. A commitment to common sense . . . to compassion . . . to co-operation—when rooted in genuine conviction and principle—is a commitment to conservatism.
“Let me close by saying: I consider whether to do this with reluctance. And I mean that in the most personal of ways.
“Like many of you, Janna and I have children who are in the formative, foundational years of their lives.
“I genuinely worry about the consequences that my agreeing to serve will have on them.
“Will they experience the viciousness and incivility that we all face on a daily basis?
“But my greatest worry is the consequence of not stepping up. Of some day having my own kids ask me, when the stakes were so high, ‘Why didn’t you do all you could? Why didn’t you stand and fight for my future when you had the chance?’
“None of us wants to hear that question.
“And none of us should ever have to.
“I have shown my colleagues what I think success looks like, what it takes to unify and lead, and how my family commitments come first. I have left this decision in their hands, and should they agree with these requests, then I am happy and willing to get to work. Thank you.
This is good news and bad news, of course, as most things that come out of Congress (and, for that matter, Paul Ryan’s office), are. Paul Ryan wants a more successful Congress, which is something he, himself, has worked towards. He’s known to work across the aisle, specifically on the budget, and he prizes success even if it comes at the cost of compromise. For the Republican image, this could be a positive change…but the question is, at what cost does such a change come?
Ryan has a good record from Freedomworks (better, even than the Freedom Caucus’s candidate, Daniel Webster), and he’s solid on fiscal issues. His statement makes it clear he has a vision for what his time in leadership would look like, but whether you think he’d be a good leader depends on how you define success. If it’s as compromise bills, then he’s your man. If it’s ideological purity, this may be a hill to die on. It remains to be seen where the caucus will go, since we’ve heard no comprehensive argument for Paul Ryan as the most acceptable selection just yet.
UPDATE: FreedomWorks has issued a statement about Ryan’s record.
“There’s no doubt that Paul Ryan is a highly intelligent, well respected legislator, and an interesting candidate for Speaker. But we’ve yet to hear if he’s interested in making completely reasonable process changes requested by the House Freedom Caucus and other conservative members.”
“These conservatives were elected because they ran on principles that reflected the limited government values of their districts. Unfortunately, time and time again, they’re criticized by Republican leaders for simply voting in a manner consistent with their constituents back home.”
“The House Freedom Caucus wants a Speaker who will force the president to the negotiating table, as well as address and honor their other important concerns about the process, including a return to regular order and an end to governing by crisis. We look forward to hearing what Ryan has to say about these concerns in the coming days.”
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