House Speaker Paul Ryan told his staff and colleagues Wednesday morning that he will not run for re-election, a predictable conclusion after a few months of him and his staff flatly denying rumors that he would retire.
“I will be setting new priorities in my life,” Ryan told reporters after a morning meeting of the Republican conference, saying he wants to spend more time with his teenage daughters.
Axios first reported the news of Ryan’s retirement, citing “friends” of the speaker who said that after he “passed tax reform, his longtime dream, he was ready to step out of a job that has become endlessly frustrating, in part because of President Trump.” Ryan and Trump have maintained an uneasy alliance, dating back to Trump’s presidential campaign. Ryan canceled a scheduled appearance with Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, and at times, he has seemed exasperated with questions about the president’s comments. In his remarks to reporters, Ryan said he was “grateful for the president to give us this chance to get this stuff done.”
Trump, for his part, tweeted that Ryan was a “truly good man” and praised his legacy.
Ryan’s retirement is going to cause its fair share of chaos in Republican politics.
The leadership battle to replace Ryan, between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, will now go live. (Scalise has said he wouldn’t directly challenge McCarthy, but there’s a real chance McCarthy can’t muster the support.) Ryan said he does not plan to call an early election to settle the speaker’s race before he leaves next January, and pointed to the example of Harry Reid’s recent exit from the Senate as an example of how the process can play out smoothly.
But Ryan’s retirement makes it more likely that the succession battle will be one for minority leader. He downplayed his own effect on this year’s elections, saying, “I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to an individual person’s race for Congress.” That might be true, but it will not be easy to convince Republican donors to pony up now that the speaker himself has surveyed the terrain and chosen to pack it in. And with many state filing deadlines still to come, expect to see yet another wave of House retirements.