WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said his decision to not run for re-election should come as little surprise to his colleagues, since he didn’t really want the leadership post to begin with.
At a Capitol Hill press conference minutes after telling the GOP caucus of his decision, Ryan noted, “You realize something when you take this job. It’s a big job with a lot riding on you, and you feel it.”
“But you also know that this is a job that does not last forever. You realize that you hold the office for just a small part of our history, so you better make the most of it. It’s fleeting, and that inspires you to do big things. And on that score, I think we have achieved a heck of a lot,” he said.
“You all know that I did not seek this job. I took it reluctantly. But I have given this job everything that I have, and I have no regrets whatsoever for having accepted this responsibility. This has been one of the two greatest honors of my life,” Ryan continued. “The job provides incredible opportunities, but the truth is it’s easy for it to take over everything in your life. And you can’t just let that happen, because there are other things in life that can be fleeting, as well: namely your time as a husband and a dad, which is the other great honor of my life.”
“That’s why today I am announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House.”
Ryan stressed that he is “not resigning” but intends to serve until January “as I was elected to do.” There will be no snap leadership elections.
“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. So I will be setting new priorities in my life,” he said, noting how his father died when the Speaker was 16 years old.
“Some of you wonder why I just can’t do the normal politician thing, in which is to run and then retire after the election. That is what I’m told is the politically shrewd thing to do. I considered that. But just as my conscience is what got me to take this job in the first place, my conscience could not handle going out that way.”
Ryan took few questions, but reiterated that he believes the special counsel probe led by Robert Mueller should continue.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) noted that Ryan is one of his best friends and “fearlessly led this conference and championed ideas that are moving this country forward.”
“Obviously, today is a sad day for me personally and for our conference, but Paul’s selfless leadership has put our conference and our country in a better place. There is more work to do this year, and we will do it together as a team,” McCarthy said in a statement. “We will continue to carry the flag we carried as Young Guns, fighting every day to earn the support of the American people and continue to make our country stronger.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who is also heading to the exits after the 115th Congress, noted that Ryan “has always been the smartest kid in the class.”
“He is brilliant, strategic, selfless, and an incredible communicator. He has always been willing to put the interests of others, and the interests of his country, above his own,” Gowdy said.
“To those within Congress who always seemed to have a better idea or a smarter strategy, now is your chance to run for Speaker,” Gowdy quipped. “To those outside of Congress who always seemed to have a better idea or a smarter strategy, you do not have to be a member of the House to be Speaker of the House and hence, now is your chance to run for Speaker.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Ryan “a good man who is always true to his word,” and expressed hope that Ryan would act as unchained as some of the other Republicans who have decided not to run for re-election yet are serving out the remainder of their terms.
“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,” Schumer said. “If he’s willing to reach across the aisle, he’ll find Democrats willing and eager to work with him. The job may be made harder because Congressmen Scalise and McCarthy will be competing for the hard-right’s favor, but Speaker Ryan is up to the job.”