Separately, he told an Associated Press reporter much the same during a campaign stop in Mosinee, Wis., when asked about a Thursday article in The Hill about mounting speculation that he might step down.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Ryan said. “I am interested in staying on as speaker.”
Aides to Ryan have insisted for weeks that he has no plans to step down as speaker. But the public statements illustrate how Ryan’s immediate future has been thrown in doubt by tensions over how he, as the most senior elected Republican in the country, has handled the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Ryan told fellow House Republicans last month that he would no longer publicly defend the GOP nominee after a recording emerged capturing Trump seemingly bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent.
Ryan hasn’t disowned Trump completely — he said this week he has already voted for him — but many GOP lawmakers were incensed that Ryan would crack a united Republican front by breaking with the party’s presidential standard-bearer. Trump himself has amplified those feelings, accusing Ryan of “disloyalty” and later suggesting that wavering party leaders could be held responsible if he loses on Nov. 8.
Ryan won 236 of 247 Republican votes when he was elected speaker last October. But Republicans are expected to lose seats in the next Congress, leaving him a potentially much thinner margin of victory. That would empower his critics, including members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who forced out Ryan’s predecessor John A. Boehner, to demand concessions in return for delivering the 218 votes necessary to secure the speakership.
One House Republican who supported Ryan last year, Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, tweeted “if Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan.”
Much could depend on Tuesday’s results. A Trump win likely unify Republicans and allow bygones to be bygones. And a landslide Trump loss coupled with a good GOP showing in House races — losing a dozen seats or less — could take pressure off Ryan. But a close Trump loss could empower Ryan’s critics and leave him in a tenuous position.
Much, too, depends on whether Trump would openly blame Ryan for a loss. His campaign’s chief executive, Steve Bannon, is a fierce Ryan critic and the media organization he led, Breitbart News, has consistently sought to undermine Ryan’s status as a party leader.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Ryan ally, said last week it would be “foolish” not to consider whether Ryan might step down if Trump loses and hard-liners threaten to oust him.
“It’s not been an easy job, and working with a President-elect Clinton is going to be pretty difficult going forward,” he said.
Assuming Republicans keep the House majority, the process of choosing the next speaker will begin almost immediately after the election. GOP members are set to vote on their next set of leaders on Nov. 16, though the speaker’s race won’t be settled until early January — when House members vote of the floor. Ryan would need to secure 218 votes by then, and he cannot expect support from Democrats.