WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bombshell Wednesday decision to retire in January triggers a fight to succeed him, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said a leadership election should be held as early as this summer.
The Wisconsin Republican’s announcement adds more tumult to the already chaotic Trump-era governing environment and often tense relations between the White House and GOP-controlled Congress.
The policy driven Ryan has been balancing the interests of his GOP House majority with the tweet-driven polarizing impulses of President Donald Trump, who he backed with only lukewarm support in 2016.
Democrats need to pick up 23 seats in the November mid-term elections and Ryan’s departure put his own Wisconsin district, which takes in parts of Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Janesville just across the Illinois border, “at risk,” according to the Cook Political Report.
In announcing his retirement, Ryan, 48, a resident of Janesville, the father of three teenagers, said he has spent too many years away from his family.
“What I realize is, if I’m here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen,” Ryan said.
“So I will be setting new priorities in my life, but I’ll also be leaving incredibly proud of what we have accomplished.”
With mid-terms looming, the GOP-led House and Senate will likely not take up any major items in the face of what is shaping up as a tough election year even without the added complication of a lame duck Speaker.
Ryan said he will leave the House with two big achievements: the first overhaul of the tax code in 36 years and pumping more money to the military, in the spending plan Trump signed into law last month.
Ryan officially told his Republican conference during a morning meeting.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said Ryan received a series of standing ovations. “I would have thought there would have been more surprise,” Davis told me.
First elected to the House in 1998, Ryan became a national figure when 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney tapped him to be his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan suddenly and reluctantly found himself as Speaker in 2015, a consensus choice after then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was pressured out by the newly emboldened tea-party GOP faction.
“He was the perfect guy to take on a speakership that he didn’t want,” Davis said when we talked outside the House chamber.
Ryan “really answered the call when we needed someone to help stabilize the conference,” Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., told me.
One of the most important jobs of the Speaker — this is also true for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — is to raise money to bankroll House campaigns, a responsibility requiring near constant travel.
Ryan is a powerhouse fundraiser — he inherited the Romney fundraising apparatus — and that is expected to continue through November.
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., running against Democratic newcomer Sean Casten, a former energy company executive, told me Ryan’s exit will not have an impact on his race.
Looking at the bigger mid-term picture, Roskam said, “I think the fact that he is staying in through the cycle is important. I think it would be harder if he were to leave tomorrow.”
In another Chicago area contest, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., facing another Democratic newcomer, Lauren Underwood, a nurse, said Ryan’s retirement “if anything it just reinforces the fact that we have to work hard in our own district.”
The scramble to replace Ryan is already on.
The Speaker and the Minority Leader are usually elected in January, at the start of a new Congress. The two names mentioned the most on Wednesday were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise from Louisiana.
Kinzinger told me he sees no value in a protracted internal campaign for the top leadership post and would like the House Republicans to hold elections “sooner than later.” The new leader would still take over in January; it would just get the jockeying over with.
“It would be nice to kind of get this stuff done, because what you don’t want is about an eight-month process where people are running for Speaker because it’s very tough,” Kinzinger said.
I asked Kinzinger how soon and he said, “probably” sometime during the summer.
Ryan said on Wednesday he does not plan to call early leadership elections.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., in a race with GOP newcomer Doug Bennett, a business consultant, said Ryan’s retirement will not be a factor in their district. “Everyone needs to be focused on the issues at home.”
Will Ryan’s lame-duck status make it easier for Democrats to gain 23 seats?
Davis said Ryan — now not having to worry about his own re-election bid — will be able to “dedicate more time” to “re-elect a Republican majority.”
We’ll see, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told me.
Said Quigley, it “depends entirely how its handled in the next couple of weeks, how we see this playing out.”