WASHINGTON – Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told PJM he advised House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not to take the job and said he’s surprised Ryan’s hair is not grayer at this point in his speakership.
Steele said Ryan’s “talents in terms of policy” haven’t been able to shine through as speaker but he’s doing a “good job” overall.
Steele was asked if he’s satisfied with Ryan’s performance so far.
“They’re [conservatives] always upset with Paul Ryan. Look, I’m a Paul Ryan fan. My advice to the speaker was don’t take the job, back when he was looking at it. I think his talents in terms of policy are not accentuated as much right now because he’s got to manage the House and all that. I think overall he’s done a good job. He’s done very well. He’s avoided some pitfalls,” Steele said during an interview at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday evening.
“He’s trying to bring the administration into the Washington culture and climate, as the administration is trying to help him, sort of, relay back to the members exactly where they want to go and how they will function with this president. So, he’s been a good mediator in many respects, an important one for both the White House and, for example, the Freedom Caucus, so it’s been a challenging job for him. God bless him. It’s amazing his hair hasn’t grayed as much as others, or lost it like some of us, but he seems to be doing pretty well,” he added.
Steele was asked if Ryan should have planned to put the latest version of the Obamacare replacement bill up for a vote before President Trump’s 100-day mark now that most of the House Freedom Caucus is reportedly on board with the bill, though moderates are still reticent.
“If the votes aren’t there you don’t do the vote. I mean, it’s that simple,” Steele said. “You don’t want to get into a situation where you create an embarrassing moment for the House leadership or for the president. They’re on board, but you still have to manage what goes to the Senate.”
Steele said Ryan made a “smart move” by not moving the Obamacare replacement bill to the House floor despite support from the conservative Freedom Caucus.
“I think the White House really wanted to put the pressure on to get it done, but it just wasn’t there,” he said.
Steele was asked if he is happy with the overall GOP strategy under Trump after avoiding a government shutdown at the last minute with a $1.1 trillion spending bill.
“I think there have been some good moments and there have been some bad moments. I think everybody is trying to figure out, really, sort of pivoting off the White House, how they interact, how they move about on legislation – as we saw with healthcare, it didn’t go so well – avoiding the shutdown was going to be an important next step, they did that,” he said.
Steele told PJM the “real test” begins after the 100-day mark.
“After you get past the 100-day hype, now it’s like, ‘OK, are you ready to get the job done? What are you going to do? You know where the bathrooms are. You know where everything is. You know who the players are. You need additional players in the administration, get that done. Get them through the Senate so they can be confirmed.’ So the administration still has a lot of work to do,” he said.
Steele said Trump has an “advantage” with tax reform over other issues because he does not have to tackle it all at one time.
“He can do tax cuts here, he can reform repatriation of offshore funds over there, so he doesn’t have to do a complete robust tax reform package. He can break it up into smaller, bite-size chunks and assess as he goes along how the public is responding and where the support is for certain things he wants to do inside the House and the Senate,” Steele said.
PJM pointed out that congressional Democrats are already upset about Trump’s proposal to cut the individual tax rates for the top tax bracket.
“At this stage I would worry less about what the Democrats are concerned about, worry more about how you craft a tax reform package that Senate and House Republicans will support that you can then articulate to the public. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter about anything else,” Steele said.
“So I think the primary focus has to be on this is where we want to go, these one, two, three things, we want to lead out of the box with, we want to get the House behind it, the Senate behind it and we want the president to sign it, boom. And then everything else will fall into place after that and, trust me, the Democrats going into 2018, if it’s a good package, they’ll be there,” he added.