RACINE, Wis. — A confident Paul Ryan said he is “not worried” about any potential threat to his speakership, and dismissed chatter about his political position as inside-the-Beltway babble. He voted to continue to serve atop the chamber out of a “sense of duty.”
The Wisconsin Republican, speaking Monday at a local Republican Party office here, briskly dismissed the perception that his speakership is in danger. He said he’s spent the past month talking to House Republicans about their races and has been roundly praised.
“I feel very good where I am,” Ryan said to a small group of reporters here after a speech to roughly 30 local Republicans alongside Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “I’ve gotten such a great outpouring of support from members. They know I took the job as a sense of duty, that duty is not done, and I plan on continuing doing that duty.”
Less than 24 hours before of Election Day, a jean-clad and cowboy-boot wearing Ryan is crisscrossing the Badger State with Johnson on a bus tour, part of his months-long effort of keeping the Senate in Republican hands. This comes after a summer-long trek across the country, raising record sums of money and campaigning for House Republicans.
The overall political climate for down-ballot Republicans has improved lately. Top House GOP officials believe they will keep their losses to roughly a dozen seats. Ryan declined to play political prognosticator, but said he feels “really good about our majority,” and said keeping control of the chamber would count as a successful night.
“I’ve spoken to just about everybody in a tough race in the last 48 hours,” Ryan said, with Capitol Police officers nearby. “And I do feel very, very good. I think our candidates, our incumbents are strong.” He added that his “Better Way” policy agenda “has been a godsend, it’s really helped them out. They have a positive message. They’re running good campaigns. And we have really good candidates. So I feel pretty darn good about where we are with our majority.”
After rattling off previous election-year losses, Ryan said, “The fact that we keep this great majority in and of itself in a very, very difficult year is pretty darn good. I feel pretty good about it. I think we’re going to hold our own quite well.”
House Republicans are set to hold internal leadership elections right after they return to Washington next week. That will give Ryan the first indication of whether he’ll face any challenge to his speakership in January, when he must garner the support of the majority of the House.
No one has announced a bid against Ryan. But there has been chatter in some corners of the House Republican Conference that Ryan’s days atop the chamber might be numbered.
He dismissed the notion out of hand.
“I’m talking to members constantly all month long. This is what I do. If you are in leadership, you talk to members constantly,” said Ryan, who resisted joining the ranks of leadership for years but now speaks like a veteran of the party’s governing structure.
Ryan said he hadn’t started asking for votes, but insiders expect that process to start quickly after Election Day.
“I’m not doing any of that,” Ryan said of whipping support. “I’m just talking to members [about] where they are with their races to see what they hear on the ground, how their campaigns are going. I do that constantly.”
Ryan will immediately become a focal point of national politics no matter who wins the White House on Tuesday. If Donald Trump somehow prevails, Ryan will have to learn how to work with a president of his own party with whom he rarely agrees. If Hillary Clinton wins, the speaker will be forced to balance the necessities of governing with standing up to a president of another party. On top of that he’ll have to deal with a House Republican Conference itching to investigate the Clintons and their orbit.
Ryan also has his own tricky internal politics to navigate. His rocky relationship with Trump has upset some Republican lawmakers but endeared him to others. If Republicans can limit their election losses to a dozen seats, it would be seen as a major boon for Ryan and could ease his path to another term as speaker.
Ryan will be standing over this political cauldron while he begins to ponder his own ambitions for higher office. Should Clinton win, he’ll likely vault to the top of potential Republican contenders for the White House in 2020.
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