Just the Facts

Paul Ryan’s Retirement Says Something About Congress

By No Labels
April 11, 2018 | Blog

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement Wednesday, not three years after he was handed the gavel. It was a telling moment.


Ryan is well respected by his Republican House colleagues. The one-time congressional aide rose to become a vice presidential candidate, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and the youngest speaker in more than 100 years. Yet, to spend more time with his family, the 48-year-old will step down as Speaker and leave Congress, where he has represented Wisconsin since he was 28.


Ryan’s departure is the surest sign yet that serving in today’s Congress is not what it was in decades past. The speaker is arguably the most powerful position in Congress, third in line to the presidency, and the top of the political food chain. To leave after a scant three years speaks loudly to the frustrations that come with the job.


A difficult job in difficult times


The current Congress has stood still in the face of great need. While it passed a landmark tax bill late last year—a major achievement for Ryan—common-sense issues like immigration reform, border security and gun safety have gone unaddressed. At least seven out of every 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to the latest polls.


Though the House is held by Republicans, who have the benefit of a Republican Senate and president, the majority is not unified on policy. The conservative Freedom Caucus continues to exert outsized influence. The House rules allow any member of the chamber to initiate a Motion to Vacate the Chair, putting the speaker at constant risk of a confidence vote. All of this makes it tough for the speaker to initiate legislation that can both satisfy his majority and make it through the Senate to the president’s desk.


The political landscape is also looking difficult for House Republicans, who have 45 members retiring or seeking a different office. “The decision comes ahead of mid-term elections that were already looking treacherous for Republicans, who risk losing control of the House,” The Washington Post reported in its Right Turn column, under the headline, “Paul Ryan is abandoning the ship before it sinks.”


Yet Ryan maintains that he never wanted the job. When former Speaker John Boehner resigned in 2015, after conservative members of his own party tried to oust him three times in as many years, Ryan did not take the job immediately. Under tremendous pressure, and with tremendous support, he eventually stepped into the role.


What comes next?


Ryan will reportedly stay until January, when the new Congress is seated, marking 20 years of service in Congress. Top Republican leaders in the House are already scrambling to replace him, Politico reported. Two names that are commonly mentioned are Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. It is still unclear who will prevail.


Meanwhile, top Democrats have praised Ryan’s service and extolled him to work across the aisle in his remaining time. “With his newfound political freedom, I hope the Speaker uses his remaining time in Congress to break free from the hard-right factions of his caucus that have kept Congress from getting real things done,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told The New York Times. “If he’s willing to reach across the aisle, he’ll find Democrats willing and eager to work with him.”

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