He did not take questions and did not give an explicit endorsement for Ryan’s continued service as speaker, but the meeting Thursday had the unmistakable feel of a summit between two governing partners who expect to spend the months to come advancing a shared agenda. Trump later met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his Capitol office.
Thursday’s meeting served as denouement after a campaign season in which the Ryan-Trump relationship emerged as a major story line. Ryan spoke out on several occasions to denounce Trump’s comments — on his proposed ban on Muslim immigration and his criticism of a Mexican American federal judge, to name two — and when Trump clinched the Republican nomination in April, Ryan initially withheld his endorsement, citing his desire to support a “standard bearer who bears our standards.”
The two men met privately in Washington shortly afterward, but they were never seen together in public at any point during the long campaign. They eventually settled into an uneasy truce, with Ryan stumping for Republicans and the conservative policy agenda he assembled with the help of fellow House members without appearing alongside Trump on the hustings.
Tensions flared again in early October, after The Washington Post published a video that captured Trump bragging about kissing and grabbing women without their consent — prompting scores of GOP lawmakers to speak out against him. Ryan convened a conference call of House Republicans, which he opened by declaring that he would not longer defend Trump as a candidate — though he said he still planned to vote for Trump and urge voters to elect Republicans up and down the ballot.
Trump and his allies on and off Capitol Hill, however, saw Ryan’s move as an act of betrayal — not as an act calibrated to ensure that Republicans maintained their commanding House majority.
But Trump has kept silent on Ryan since, and Tuesday’s results — which included better-than-expected showings by Republicans in both the House and the Senate — have quieted a great deal of the internal unrest that threatened to end Ryan’s speakership if Democrats had kept control of the White House.
“The past is the past,” Ryan said in a Thursday Fox News Channel interview, pointing to his vigorous campaigning in the race’s final week, helping to deliver his home state of Wisconsin to Trump.
One senior Republican said Wednesday that Ryan is “about to become Donald’s best friend in Congress.”
“He’s still the indispensable guy,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “Whatever differences they had in the past, they each need one another to be successful. Trump needs somebody that can unite the Republican caucus and move things through. Obviously, Ryan needs someone who can sign something. We now have that.”
After lunch at the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican haunt a block from the Capitol, Ryan invited Trump to his office suite and invited him to the Speaker’s Balcony on the Capitol’s west front, which looks out across the National Mall toward the Washington Monument and the White House. It also looks down on the inauguration stand that is now being erected ahead of the Jan. 20 ceremony — and it has a clear view of Trump’s new D.C. hotel in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
“Really, really beautiful,” Trump said as he passed reporters afterward.
The meetings offered GOP leaders an opportunity to learn about Trump’s policy goals for the first 100 days of his presidency, according to aides. McConnell and Ryan both avoided committing Wednesday to a list of legislative priorities for the lame duck session set to begin next week, in deference to Trump’s wishes.
“Donald Trump had one of the most impressive victories we’ve ever seen, and we’re going to turn that victory into progress for the American people,” Ryan said after the meeting Thursday. “We’re now talking about how we’re going to hit the ground running to get this country turned around and make American great again.”
“He’s anxious to get going early and so are we,” McConnell said later. “It was a first class meeting.”
Trump briefly addressed reporters later in the afternoon after meeting with McConnell, telling them “people will be very, very happy” with what a Republican-controlled federal government would have in store. “We’ll look very strongly at immigration,” he said. “We’re going to look very strongly at health care, and we’re looking at jobs, big league jobs.”
Besides Trump’s wishes for the early days of his administration, also left unresolved is how to handle the immediate necessity of funding the federal government past Dec. 9. Ryan and McConnell had been ready to push through a compromise year-long spending bill to be negotiated with President Obama. But now, they are under pressure from conservatives to pass only a short-term stopgap, allowing Republicans to craft their own budget early in the Trump administration.
Heritage Action chief executive Michael A. Needham said Thursday that “Republicans in Congress must begin setting the stage for 2017” and “should not negotiate any massive spending deal with President Obama.”
Lawmakers and staff were unprepared for a lame duck session ahead of a Trump presidency, according to several aides. Leaders assumed they would be negotiating a year-long spending deal ahead of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Rank-and-file members entertained plans for how they would react if Democrats won the Senate but never what they would do with GOP control in both Congress and the White House, the aides said.
Part of the problem is that Trump shifted his positions on critical issues like Obamacare, immigration and tax reform several times during the campaign. Leaders are hoping to clarify what Trump’s priorities are in the coming days so that members can be briefed when they return to Washington next week.
Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane contributed to this report.