By Robert Romano
House Speaker Paul Ryan is not running for re-election in 2018, but apparently intends to serve out his term as House Speaker. That brings the wave of House Republicans retiring or running for different offices this cycle up to 40.
That, after the $1.3 trillion stinker of an omnibus spending bill, where Democrat priorities like the New York-New Jersey Gateway tunnel were included with an extra $380 million, Planned Parenthood continues to get $500 million a year via Medicaid and other government health programs, but President Donald Trump’s priorities like building the southern border wall, defunding sanctuary cities and states, and his infrastructure plan were not.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the spending bill as a win for Democrats: “We don’t have the House. We don’t have the Senate. We don’t have the presidency, but we produced a darn good bill for the priorities that we have believed in.”
After that, rumors started swirling that Ryan would not stay on as Speaker, which have proven to be correct.
It’s not that the current GOP Congress is without accomplishments. Tax cuts, increased defense spending, repealing the Obamacare individual mandate, drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), stopping some of Obama’s midnight regulations and ending Obama’s HUD housing zoning takeover rule were all signed into law by President Trump.
Those are things Republicans have been running on for years. And make no mistake, those are huge accomplishments. Ryan deserves a lot of the credit, too.
It’s also in the rear-view mirror. On its own, it’s not enough to keep the House majority. House Republicans needed a leader who would be setting the agenda, connecting with voters this year about why the GOP should keep the majority and what will be accomplished in Congress next year.
And now the leader of the House will not be leading the re-election campaign in 2018 with skin in the game.
If Paul Ryan was going to retire, he should have done it in December after the tax cut bill was done. It was a high water mark for Congress. There would have been time for new leadership elections. It would have engaged a necessary conversation about the best path forward for Congress, with members choosing the right direction by selecting new leadership.
Instead, Ryan waited, and now has seemingly ceded the 2018 midterm electoral battlefield at a critical moment. It has all the appearance of a retreat, and now, it’s practically too late to replace him.
If there is any logic now for Ryan to serve out his term as Speaker, it’s that running nobody as the next Speaker versus House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does better in voters’ minds than anybody in current leadership that brought us the omnibus who might presently take over as Speaker. It’s a lot like running for President without a candidate. Call it the Spiro Agnew strategy, who was apparently chosen by Richard Nixon as a running mate in 1968 precisely because he was unknown. Nixon ran better on his own.
And perhaps Republican members will run better without having to defend Speaker Ryan.
Again, Republicans have accomplishments. But those now risk being overshadowed by a Republican electorate dispirited by the major concessions given to the other side, and by infighting and a failure to properly defend the President of their own party and the office of the Presidency itself.
It has been revealed the preceding Obama administration spied on what was then the opposition party in 2016, the Trump campaign, under false charges of Russia collusion, and then the secret investigation was carried over into the Trump administration in 2017.
Republicans led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) have conducted vigorous oversight to expose the Obama spying scandal.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has far exceeded the scope of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ original recusal from any matters related to the 2016 presidential election.
But it’s not enough. So far, Republican Congressional leaders have been unwilling to take on the implications of the out of control Justice Department that is operating its own agenda to overturn the express will of the American people who voted for President Trump in 2016. The rule of law is in grave danger.
Yet, Ryan and company offer no solution for a rogue element in the executive branch that has no place in our constitutional republic, in which the Framers only ever envisioned one president executing the laws.
Let the investigation play out, the wise men preach, and then pretend that those who are leading this investigation have integrity when they have resorted to violating constitutional rights and other misconduct to get what they want. Some offer bills to protect Mueller. It’s cowardly.
Elsewhere, President Trump has his agenda on border security, but Congressional Republicans have rejected that by failing to fight for it when they have the power of the purse. It is all very dispiriting to Republican voters. Many will stay home, testing Republican majorities in marginal districts.
The Senate is a different story because of the seats that are up this year. Republicans could still pick up a few seats there, but they need a counterpart.
On the House side, Republicans still need an aggressive legislative strategy that forces the Senate to make big concessions to the President. Unfortunately, most of the must-pass legislative vehicles that might have done this, that is, the debt ceiling, the budget and the omnibus have already sailed.
There is still time to get the southern border wall funded in the appropriations and September funding bills, but it will take a fight to get it in the Senate.
Using key votes on impoundment of funds, which only require a simple majority in the Senate to pass, offers an opportunity to roll back items that remain unpopular. Force votes on rescinding monies for Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities and states. Make senators defend their votes.
On the September funding bill, the risk is that members led by Ryan will be anxious to avoid “another” shutdown and so will simply pass a stopgap into the lame duck and then after November, pass another stopgap, potentially leaving a Speaker Pelosi to set the agenda in 2019.
Whoever is leading the House this year, if it’s still Ryan, needs to force votes in the Senate on the priorities that got President Trump and Republicans elected in 2016. If Ryan wanted to stand aside and not lead the majority in the House for re-election, he should have done it months ago. But to make the most of it, the one silver lining is that the Republican race for Speaker has now become nationalized, and those who wish to be Speaker can and should campaign nationally to make their case to lead.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.