Ryan's press secretary, AshLee Strong, was dismayed by the line of questioning.
Way to go reporters: first question at a poverty forum: Trump. Slow clap.— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) June 7, 2016
We expect it, and he happily answered all the qs. Just sad that millions living in poverty aren't prioritized over politics.— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) June 7, 2016
As The Fix's head honcho and many reporters noted on Twitter, Trump's attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel are the news of the moment, whether Ryan and his staff like it or not. Ryan went on to say that Trump's remark was "the textbook definition of a racist comment." A House speaker accusing his party's presidential nominee of spouting racist things is, needless to say, a very newsworthy event with huge implications.
There's also a big-picture argument to be made that presidential elections are extremely important when it comes to addressing issues such as, well, poverty. Ryan himself said last week, in an op-ed endorsing Trump, that "to enact these ideas" — meaning the anti-poverty ideas he laid out Tuesday, plus the rest of his agenda — "we need a Republican president willing to sign them into law." If the speaker's belief is that his plan to help the poor will be wasted without the right president, then his office can't really complain when journalists ask whether and why he still believes Trump is that right president. Reporters were essentially following Ryan's own logic when they questioned him about Trump.
It's also worth remembering here that Strong chided the media for overlooking a different social issue last month — at another time when Ryan was clearly tired of questions about Trump.
"You should know that Thursday's Ryan-Trump meeting is not the most important thing happening in D.C. this week," Strong wrote in an email to journalists, referring to the much-hyped May 12 sit-down between the speaker and the candidate. "While it's a busy week on the political front, it also happens to be an important week on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. House Republicans this week will follow through on their promise to address the alarming opioid epidemic sweeping the nation."
No one disputes the notion that heroin addiction and poverty are important issues, and few would question Ryan's genuine desire to address them. But his office seems particularly keen on shaming the press into focusing on these subjects when the speaker might prefer to avoid uncomfortable — and valid — inquiries about his party's standard-bearer.