Capitol Hill Republicans praised House Speaker Paul Ryan for his legislative successes in the wake of his retirement announcement Wednesday, but they remained noncommittal about who should replace him next year.
“It’s disappointing,” said Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., “but when you think about what Speaker Ryan has accomplished during his short time as speaker, it’ll end up being three years, but comprehensive tax reform, regulatory relief, strengthening our defense, he’s done a remarkable job with our conference and our majority.”
Ryan confirmed on Wednesday morning that he will step down at the end of his current term in January 2019 in order to spend more time with his children.
“I just don’t want to be one of those people looking back on my life thinking, ‘I should’ve spent more time with my kids,’” Ryan said at a news conference. “When I know if I spend another term, they will only know me as a weekend father.”
Ryan, 48, ascended to the speakership reluctantly in 2015 after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, resigned. He cited tax reform and addressing military readiness as two of his biggest accomplishments in the role.
"I like to think I've done my part, my little part in history to set us on a better course," he said.
Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Some see the tax reform bill as a career-capping achievement for the lawmaker.
“Paul Ryan has done a yeoman’s job getting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “He really is the guy who wanted to rewrite the tax code during his time in Washington. I’m proud he was able to succeed in that endeavor.”
Ryan’s fellow Wisconsinite Rep. Glenn Grothman said the speaker is “beloved” by his Republican colleagues, and he has not heard the kind of internal demands for Ryan to step down that Boehner faced at the end of his House career.
“He’s done a good job of holding everybody together,” Grothman said.
Grothman said he understands Ryan’s desire to spend time with his children after his very arduous tenure as speaker.
“It’s an incredibly demanding job,” he said. “It’s probably a 100-hour-a-week job.”
He also framed Ryan’s departure as a more honorable way to bow out than others may have recommended.
“A lot of people were encouraging Speaker Ryan to run for reelection and resign in January,” he said. “In order to do that, he would have had to do what apparently some politicians are comfortable doing, and that is not being honest with the electorate.”
Ryan joins dozens of other Republicans who have announced their intent to step down rather than seek reelection this fall. Another, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said on Wednesday morning that he plans to retire too.
The mass exodus comes as the GOP attempts to fend off a Democratic bid to regain control of the chamber after strong performances in several special elections over the last year.
I’ve been honored to serve my community in Congress. Cindy & I have decided that I will not seek re-election.— Dennis Ross (@RepDennisRoss) April 11, 2018
I look forward to continued public service in my next chapter, where I will return to the practice of law and will pursue opportunities to increase civic education. pic.twitter.com/hI7MDDcjbd
“I want to say thank you to Speaker Ryan for his service to the country,” said Rep. Reuben Kihuen, D-Nev., who added that, even though he often disagreed with Ryan, he believes the speaker has always done what he feels is best for the country.
However, Kihuen saw Ryan’s decision to walk away from being third in line to the presidency as proof that Congress is “broken” and that Republicans are nervous about November.
“He and the Republican caucus may be sensing this is going to be a bad year for Republicans,” he said.
Despite the ticking clock on his congressional career, Ryan insisted Wednesday that his work as speaker is far from complete.
“I don’t want to be too sentimental here,” he said. “I want to be clear: I’m not done yet. I intend to run through the tape, to finish the year.”
According to Grothman, it is too soon to say who might replace Ryan in the speaker’s chair.
“Obviously, there are rumors in the building that the two other highest members of leadership, Kevin McCarthy from California and Steve Scalise from Louisiana, would be looking at it,” he said. “But we have a lot of time for other names to come out of the woodwork.”
LaHood said that the question of who will be the next speaker is better left until after the midterms, assuming Republicans still control the speakership at that point.
“Paul just made his announcement today,” he said. “We’re going to focus on the November elections and keeping our majority.”