Speaker Ryan to retire, leaving big election-year GOP vacuum

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., calls on a reporter after announcing that he will not run for re-election at the end of his term, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., calls on a reporter after announcing that he will not run for re-election at the end of his term, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

 By LISA MASCARO Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Wednesday he will retire rather than seek another term in Congress as the steady if reluctant wingman for President Donald Trump, sending ripples through a Washington already on edge and spreading new uncertainty through a party bracing for a rough election year.

The Wisconsin Republican cast the decision to end his 20-year career as a personal one, saying he did not want his children growing up with a “weekend dad.” Claiming he’s accomplished “a heckuva lot,” he said the party can point to strong gains as lawmakers campaign ahead of November elections. A self-styled budget expert, Ryan had made tax cuts a centerpiece of his legislative agenda, and a personal cause, and Congress delivered on that late last year.

“I have given this job everything I have,” he said. “We’re going to have a great record to run on.”

But Ryan’s impending departure also sets off a scramble among his lieutenants to take the helm. And it will fuel speculation that Ryan is eyeing a coming Democratic surge, fueled by opposition to Trump, that could wrest control of the House from Republicans’ grip. Several GOP veterans have announced plans to retire in recent months and another, Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida, followed Ryan on Wednesday.

After talking with Trump early Wednesday, Ryan, 48, first announced his plans at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina said an emotional Ryan “choked up a few times trying to get through” his remarks to colleagues and received three standing ovations.

Moments later, Ryan told reporters that if he were to stay for one more term, his children — now all teens — would only know him as a weekend dad.

“I can’t let that happen,” he said.

The speaker had been heading toward this decision since late last year, said a person familiar with his thinking, but as recently as February he had considered running for another term. His own father died suddenly of a heart attack when Ryan was young, and though Ryan is in good health, the distance from his family weighed on him. A final decision was made over the two-week congressional recess, which was partly spent on a family vacation in the Czech Republic.

Ryan called extended family and a few close friends Tuesday night and alerted a few staff. On Wednesday morning, after talking to the president, the vice president and fellow GOP lawmakers from Wisconsin, he gathered the rest of his staff before going to the conference meeting, officials.

Ryan, who has had a difficult relationship with Trump, thanked the president for giving him the chance to move the GOP ahead.

Ryan, from Janesville, Wisconsin, was first elected to Congress in 1998. Along with Reps. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, he branded himself a rising “young gun” in an aging party and a new breed of hard-charging Republican ready to shrink the size of government.

He became GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

Ryan was pulled into the leadership job by the abrupt retirement of Speaker John Boehner in 2015. Boehner had struggled to wrangle the chamber’s restless conservative wing and failed to the seal big deals on fiscal policy he sought. Ryan had more trust with the hardliners in the House.

“That’s probably his greatest gift to us,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. “His ability to bridge the vast divide.”

But Ryan ultimately had to wrestle with another unexpected challenge: Trump, a president with little of Ryan’s interest in policy detail or ideological purity. The two have had not had a close working relationship.

Ryan’s announcement comes as Republicans are bracing for a potential blue wave of voter enthusiasm for Democrats, who need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats in November to regain the majority.

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