Paul Ryan and the Sad, Question-Dodging, Acquiescent Republicans of the House

When they meet as a conference, House Republicans file into a basement room in the Capitol. It’s a short three minute walk from the House floor, accessible from a few points, all of them crowded with reporters.

This creates a sort of knowledge problem. The talkiest members are not the ones actually hammering out hard details. Not usually. The talkiest ones are the ones who want to talk. And so you have Rep. Tom Cole, a Boehner loyalist whose hope for a deal has bordered on Pollyana-ish, stopping for nine minutes to report that all is well.

“We have to recognize, we don’t have the White House,” he said. “We don’t have the Senate. All things considered, this is as good an outcome as we could have expected, and we can move forward to issues that are more to our advantage.”

But the vast majority of members rushed past reporters, refusing to comment, even on background. Rep. Bill Huizenga looked at the assembled and said “I feel like I should apologize.” Then he added: “It’s the Senate’s fault,” which sort of canceled out the apology. Rep. Allen West, who lost re-election and leaves in two days, walked slowly enough to allow reporters to ask him questions, dispensing pithy wisdom like “the system is broken.”

Two members dodged the press by warning them of better game: “Paul Ryan’s coming behind us!” And there he was, the defeated veep candidate, rushing into the room with an iPod headset still plugged into one year. One reporter asked Ryan whether Marco Rubio’s “no” on the deal would influence his break. “Give me a break,” laughed Ryan. “Happy New Year!” A few hours later, when Ryan left the second Republican meeting, he dodged a question about his vote by saying “I’m just looking for the score!” Confused reporters wondered what he meant – the CBO had scored the deal hours earlier. But he was talking about the Rose Bowl, in which the University of Wisconsin was playing.