Republican U.S. Representative Paul Ryan was the 2012 running mate of presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He took over as speaker of the House in 2015.
Who Is Paul Ryan?
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan was born on January 29, 1970, in Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan has been serving as the U.S. representative of Wisconsin’s Congressional District 1 since 1999, and became the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in January 2015. He was the chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2011 to 2015, and is considered a fiscally conservative voice in his party. In the 2012 presidential election, Ryan was the vice-presidential running mate of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who ultimately lost the election to Democratic President Barack Obama. Ryan was reelected to his Congressional seat in 2014 and the following year he was voted speaker of the House, becoming the youngest to hold the role in nearly 150 years.
Paul Davis Ryan was born on January 29, 1970, in Janesville, Wisconsin. His father, Paul Ryan Sr., worked as an attorney, and his mother, Betty Ryan, was a stay-at-home mom. Ryan has one sister, Janet, and two brothers, Tobin and Stan.
Ryan graduated from Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville. He went on to study at Miami University in Ohio where he graduated with a degree in economics and political science in 1992. After his college graduation, Ryan began working as a marketing consultant for a family-run branch of a Wisconsin construction company. He entered politics a few years later, working as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Bob Kasten, and later for Senator Sam Brownback and New York Republican Representative Jack Kemp.
Ryan became interested in government after reading the literature of Ayn Rand; Ryan has said that he agrees with Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy, relating her philosophy to a fight of “individualism versus collectivism,” but later stated that he rejects Rand’s philosophy because he believes it’s based on atheism. According to an August 2012 article in The New Yorker, Ryan said of Rand, “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas.”
In 1998, at age 28, Ryan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Wisconsin’s Congressional District 1. He began serving as the chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011 until 2015. In this role, he helped negotiate the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 with Democratic Senator Patty Murphy.
On August 11, 2012, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Ryan, a favorite of fiscal conservatives, as his running mate for vice president, via the Romney campaign’s mobile phone application. The announcement ended months of media speculation over potential vice-presidential candidates for the 2012 election.
On August 28, 2012—the first day of the 2012 Republican National Convention, held in Tampa, Florida—Romney was officially named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee for the election. (Romney had become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee in May 2012, dominating his competitors, including Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, in the primaries.) During the Republican National Convention, 2012 election candidates Romney and Ryan received support from several fellow Republican politicians, as well as wives Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, a former attorney who became a stay-at-home mom. Janna offered words of support for her husband with a brief speech, stating, “I just want to say thank you to the Romneys for welcoming me, my husband, Paul, and our three children on this journey. It’s a tremendous honor to be America’s comeback team with you all.”
Paul Ryan took center stage on the second day of the Republican National Convention, with a lengthy speech to the Republican Party: “When Governor Romney asked me to join the ticket, I said, ‘Let’s get this done.’ And that is exactly what we are going to do,” he stated.
As Ryan spoke, a camera shot taken by CBS News showed an emotional Wisconsin governor Scott Walker—a political ally of the vice-presidential candidate—who appeared to have been moved to tears by the discourse.
Not everyone, however, was equally moved: Ryan received criticism from many news outlets regarding the accuracy of his narrative, which was peppered with disparaging comments about President Barack Obama. Of President Obama and his administration, Ryan stated, “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. . .none of us have to settle for the best [the Obama] administration offers—a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”
The results of the election were announced on November 6, 2012: Romney was defeated by President Obama in a suspense-filled race that, early on, remained close. Obama won nearly 60 percent of the electoral vote, also winning the popular vote by more than 1 million ballots.
While Ryan may have lost his vice-presidential bid, he clearly remains popular in his home state. He won reelection to the House in 2014 by a substantial margin. Ryan beat his Democratic opponent, Rob Zerban, winning more than 63 percent of the vote. Zerban only received 36 percent.
In January 2015, Ryan became the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Ryan was called on to take a larger role in the Republican Party’s leadership when John Boehner resigned his position as speaker of the House on September 25, 2015, and soon after Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Majority Leader and favorite to replace Boehner, removed himself from consideration for the position. Ryan initially refused to run for speaker, but on October 21, 2015, he said he would run if certain conditions were met, including the need for different factions of the Republican Party to unite and show their support for him. In a press conference, Ryan said: “We have become the problem. If my colleagues entrust me to be the speaker, I want us to become the solution.” He added he wanted to transform the Republican Party from “an opposition one to a proposition one.”
“I came to the conclusion that this is a very dire moment, not just for Congress, not just for the Republican Party, but for our country,” Ryan said, adding that his family would remain a priority. “I cannot and I will not give up my family time. I may not be on the road as often as previous speakers, but I pledge to try and make up for it with more time communicating our vision, our message.”
On the night of October 22, Ryan officially announced he would run for House speaker after he received support from three factions from within the Republican party. In a letter to House Republicans, Ryan wrote: “I never thought I’d be speaker. But I pledged to you that if I could be a unifying figure, then I would serve—I would go all in. After talking with so many of you, and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as one, united team. And I am ready and eager to be our speaker.”
Ryan was elected the 54th speaker of the House on October 29, 2015, with 236 votes. At age 45, he is the youngest speaker to be elected since 1869.
2016 Presidential Election
In May 2016, Donald Trump was named the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Ryan delayed his endorsement of Trump, telling reporters: “I have no timeline in mind.”
On June 2, Ryan wrote that he would vote for Trump in an op-ed article in The Janesville Gazette: “I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.”
However, the next day Ryan took issue with Trump’s accusation that Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be impartial in a fraud case against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said.
Ryan also rejected Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, which the presidential nominee doubled down on following the terrorist attack on an Orlando nightclub on June 12, 2016. “This is a war with radical Islam,” Ryan said. “It’s not a war with Islam. Muslims are our partners. The vast, vast majority of Muslims around this country and around the world are moderate. They’re peaceful, they’re tolerant.”
At the Republican National Convention in July, Ryan called for party unity and acknowledged its differences. “Democracy is a series of choices,” he said. “We Republicans have made our choice. Have we had our arguments this year? Sure, we have. You know what I call those? Signs of life, signs of a party that’s not just going through the motions, not just mouthing new words for the same, old stuff.”
Tensions between Trump and Ryan continued with Trump’s refusal to endorse Ryan in his Senate race, telling The Washington Post: “I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”
Trump’s vice presidential running mate Mike Pence endorsed Ryan on August 4th, and the following day Trump gave his support. “We will have disagreements, but we will disagree as friends and never stop working together toward victory,” Trump said. “And very importantly toward real change. So, in our shared mission to make America great again, I support and endorse our Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.”
Another Trump scandal surfaced on October 7, 2016, when The Washington Post released a 2005 recording in which he lewdly described kissing and groping women. Ryan asked Trump not to attend a campaign event the next day, and said in a statement: “I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”
Ryan did not withdraw his endorsement of Trump, but told GOP leaders that he would not campaign with Trump and would focus on maintaining the Republican Party’s majority in Congress. Trump reacted angrily on Twitter, tweeting: “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.”
(Photo: United States House of Representatives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
After one of the most contentious presidential races in U.S. history, Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on November 8, 2016. Ryan was re-elected to the Senate and the GOP maintained majorities in the House and Senate. The morning after Trump’s stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, Ryan spoke at press conference from his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. “Let me just say, this is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime,” Ryan said. “. . .Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard . . . he connected in ways with people no one else did. He turned politics on its head. And now, Donald Trump will lead a unified Republican government. And we will work hand-in-hand on a positive agenda to tackle this country’s big challenges.” Ryan was unanimously renominated for Speaker of the House that same month by his Republican peers.
American Health Care Act
On March 7, 2017, House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act, a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Speaker Ryan delivered a 30-minute presentation two days later to explain the bill, which would maintain the ACA’s coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and its allowance for children to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, but repeal the individual mandate. Some of the bills provisions included offering individuals refundable tax credits to purchase health insurance, restructuring Medicaid with the federal government sending states a fixed amount of money, allowing insurers to charge older enrollees five times more than younger people and preventing government funding for abortion.
President Trump endorsed the bill on Twitter, referring to it as “our wonderful new Healthcare Bill.” However, many organizations including the AARP and the American Medical Association released statements opposing the bill, and some conservative Republicans also voiced opposition calling it “Obamacare 2.0.”
The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the bill on March 22, but it was delayed because Republicans did not have enough votes to pass. Republican groups met behind closed doors and with President Trump to arrive at a majority of votes ultimately without success. On March 23, the president issued an ultimatum for Republicans to vote on the bill or the ACA would stand. Unable to galvanize enough support, Republicans withdrew the bill on March 24 in a major legislative setback for Ryan and President Trump.
After working to gather more support, Ryan was successful in his next effort to introduce repeal legislation, which passed by a narrow 217-213 vote on May 4. After that point, however, his hands remained tied as efforts to repeal Obamacare stalled in the Senate.
Ryan next turned his attention to his pet issue of tax reform. He again found success in this endeavor, wrangling passage of a House bill by a 227-205 vote on November 16. Among its provisions, the tax bill lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, reduced the number of individual tax brackets from seven to four and doubled the standard deduction. On December 2, Senate Republicans eked out a narrow win for their version of the bill, leaving the two chambers needing to reconcile their differences for the bill to become law.
As Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scrambled to patch the final legislation together, additional problems surfaced over whether to fund Obamacare as part of a year-end spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Despite a last-minute snag, which required the House to vote twice to account for the removal of minor provisions, Ryan and his fellow Republican lawmakers achieved their long-awaited goal with the passage of the $1.5 trillion tax bill on December 20, 2017.
Seeking to defend the tax bill, Ryan made a PR misstep a few weeks later by tweeting about a high school secretary who was thrilled that tax cuts allowed her to take home an extra $1.50 per week and therefore afford a Costco membership. After drawing criticism for trumpeting the small pay increase in the wake of major corporate tax cuts, Ryan deleted his tweet, subsequently drawing more attention for doing so.
In March 2018, Ryan was at the forefront of congressional opposition to President Trump’s plan to impose sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing that such measures would ignite a trade war and impact consumers. “I think the smarter way to go is to make it more surgical and more targeted,” said the speaker, noting that some countries engaged in more abusive behavior than others. “And so what we’re encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is clearly a legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach.”
After whispers of Ryan’s retirement surfaced during the final days of the tax bill’s passage—and were subsequently shot down by the House leader—he confirmed the news in a meeting with Republican colleagues in April 2018. Growing emotional at times, he said he was “leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe is a very bright future,” and looking forward to spending more time with his children.
Ryan said he would continue serving until the congressional term ended in January 2019, leaving time for possible successors, like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, to jostle for power.
At age 16, Ryan discovered his 55-year-old father had died in his bed after suffering a heart attack. Ryan has credited his father’s death with helping him understand 21st century American social service programs.
Ryan has been married to Janna Little Ryan since December 2000. They have three children: daughter Liza and sons Sam and Charlie.