Paul D. Ryan, in his first series of interviews since his election Thursday as House speaker, blamed a policy vacuum for causing months of Republican infighting on Capitol Hill.
“We fight over tactics because we don’t have a vision,” Ryan (R-Wis.) said on “Fox News Sunday” in the first of five interviews that were broadcast on morning news programs. “We’ve been too timid on policy; we’ve been too timid on vision — we have none.”
Ryan told Fox and other networks that he will put forth a more robust GOP agenda that will serve as a blueprint for Republican candidates going into the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
“We have to have a vision and offer an alternative to this country so that they can see that if we get the chance to lead, if we get the presidency and if we keep Congress, this is what it will look like, this is how we’ll fix the problems working families are facing,” Ryan said on Fox.
In another interview, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Ryan said: “We’ve taken plenty of tactical risks here in Congress. I believe it’s time to take some policy risks.”
Ryan’s election ended a month-long scramble to identify a successor to John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who left Congress last week after nearly five years as speaker. Ryan, thanks to his chairmanship of two key House committees and his 2012 nomination for vice president, was seen as uniquely positioned to unite a House Republican conference badly divided over how to oppose President Obama on issues as diverse as fiscal policy, regulation and immigration.
On CBS, Ryan called the turmoil of the past month “growing pains” and said he was confident that he could maintain support from the hard-line conservatives who worked to force Boehner from office. “I am a movement conservative, and people know that,” he said.
Ryan made public Sunday at least one commitment he had made in private settings in recent weeks: not to take up an immigration-reform package while Obama is president.
“Specifically on this issue, you cannot trust this president,” Ryan said on CNN, making reference to Obama’s executive orders last year granting some illegal immigrants a path to legal status: “This president tried to write the law himself. . . . Presidents don’t write laws; Congress writes laws.”
In the past, Ryan has supported comprehensive immigration-reform legislation that would have included a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, and Boehner had hoped to take up such a bill as recently as last year. But a conservative backlash, seen in the surprise ouster of then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in a primary election last year, arrested that momentum.
In addressing the immigration issue in recent private meetings, Ryan pledged to obey the “Hastert rule,” bringing to the floor only those bills supported by a majority of Republicans. But Ryan on Sunday opened the door to breaching the rule on other matters.
“There are always exceptions to the rules, and when circumstances dictate, we have to look at all options available. But I believe it’s important going forward that we operate on a consensus basis,” he said on Fox.
Ryan also declined to commit to another crucial issue to many conservatives: a push to defund Planned Parenthood in spending legislation that must be passed by early December. Although he said the group “shouldn’t get a red cent from the taxpayer,” he would not commit to including defunding language that would spark a showdown with Obama and congressional Democrats.
“Being an effective opposition party means being honest with people up front about what it is you can and cannot achieve,” Ryan said to CNN’s Dana Bash. “We have a president that isn’t willing to listen, that isn’t going to sign lots of our bills into law. We have a Senate that has a very difficult process when it comes to actually getting bills voted on. And, so knowing that we have those constraints, we have to operate within those constraints.”
Ryan, 45, who has three young children, was also pressed on his request to maintain his weekend time with his family as a prerequisite for agreeing to serve as speaker. That demand touched off a wide conversation about how American workers are able to balance their personal lives with their professional lives — and it has led to calls for legislation guaranteeing paid family leave.
Ryan — who taped the Sunday shows Friday — dismissed those suggestions: “I don’t think people asked me to be speaker so I can take more money from hardworking taxpayers to create some new federal entitlement,” he said on Fox. “I’m going to keep living in Janesville, Wisconsin. Yes, Sundays are going to be family days, and Saturdays are family and constituent days. That is what most people want in their life — is a balance.”
During the week, Ryan told CNN, he will continue to sleep on a cot in his Capitol Hill office — as he has done since arriving in Washington in 1999. “I’m just a normal guy,” he told Bash, explaining the decision.
“Yeah, but normal guys don’t sleep in their office,” Bash replied.
Said Ryan: “I just work here. I don’t live here. . . . I can actually get more work done by sleeping on a cot in my office.”
In Sunday’s interviews, Ryan was respectful of his predecessor but made clear that he intended to make significant changes to the management of the House.
“This job can’t be done like it was done,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If I pick up where John Boehner left off, then I think we won’t be successful. That’s not a discredit to John Boehner, that’s just a discredit to the way the job has been done.”
Boehner, in an interview with Bash that aired Sunday, called Ryan “the right guy at the right time” and described how he managed to help persuade the reluctant Ryan to serve as speaker: “I laid every ounce of Catholic guilt I could on him. . . . ‘You have no choice. This isn’t about what you want to do. It’s about what God wants you to do. And God has told me, he wants you to do this.’ ”
Ryan described a gradual process of being persuaded to serve by Boehner and other colleagues. A fitness enthusiast, he did offer one direct criticism of Boehner: the cigarette-smoke-infused offices he left behind.
“I’m going to have to work on the carpeting in here,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “You know, if you ever go to like a hotel room or get a rental car that’s been smoked in? That’s what this smells like.”