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Paul Ryan on working with Trump, Russia sanctions and GOP goals

February 8, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sits down with Judy Woodruff for an extended interview. They discuss Ryan’s relationship with President Trump, why he would never support a Muslim ban, finding common purpose with Steve Bannon, why he thinks restarting a relationship with Russia won't work, plus Republican plans for tax reform, health care, infrastructure and more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to my interview with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

We sat down at the Capitol. And I began by asking about his relationship with President Trump, after some tension during the campaign.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We’re doing fine. We’re getting along very well, speak fairly frequently. Mike is coming up for lunch today. So, we have spent a lot of time together coordinating our strategy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The vice president.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, the vice president. So, we get along very well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you speak often, but do they consult you not just on the routine things like the legislative calendar, but, for example, did you know ahead of time about the immigration ban?

REP. PAUL RYAN: On that one, I didn’t.

But we have decided, on a go-forward basis, that we are going to have more consulting and make sure that no one’s caught by surprise on things. We have basically mapped out what 2017 looks like from a legislative perspective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Already?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Absolutely. That’s what you do when you’re running a legislature. You plan your year.

And so Senator McConnell and I walked the president through basically what we see 2017 looking like. And there is a lot of deadline-driven events, statutory deadlines that you have to meet. And then there are plenty of other priorities that we’re working on.

And so just that planning process gets you talking about the big issues, the big picture and all the things we’re trying to get done and when we’re trying to get them done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to stay with the immigration ban for just a moment, because former CIA Director Michael Hayden, whom you know…

REP. PAUL RYAN: I know Mike well, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … joined a legal brief with a number of other national security experts in saying that they not only don’t think this is going to make the United States safer, they don’t see a threat from these seven countries, but they think it could make the country less safe, because it is going to be easier to attract people who want to work with terrorist groups against the U.S., to say the U.S. is anti-Muslim.

(CROSSTALK)

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes.

I think the rhetoric is damaging, no two ways about it. Let’s back up for a second. After the Paris shooting, we brought the Department of Homeland Security and FBI up to Capitol Hill to say, what is happening? Could this happen here?

Because, if you remember, at the Paris shooting, there was an infiltration of ISIS among the Syrian refugee population into Europe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it turned out there were not refugees involved.

REP. PAUL RYAN: But that was the issue at the time.

And so what Homeland Security and the FBI told us was, they can’t vet these people. There — there isn’t a Siri to talk to, to vet these people.

And so what we discovered was, there was a hole in the vetting process to guard against people trying to infiltrate the refugee population. And so that is why we passed legislation then about a year ago. The bill passed the House, but it got filibustered in the Senate. So it never actually went into law.

So, we have been long on record on a bipartisan basis that we need to get these vetting standards right and we need to take a pause in these programs to make sure that we have the vetting standards right. The reason these seven countries, which were identified by the Obama administration, are listed is because we have a hard time corroborating the veracity of people’s claims coming from those countries.

Those countries in particular, we have a hard time discerning who exactly these people are that are coming into the country. That is why it’s totally reasonable and rational to have a pause in this program, so that we can update and upgrade our vetting standards, so that we can be better secured to make sure that we don’t have somebody trying to infiltrate the network.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there haven’t been terrorist incidents perpetrated by people from these countries. I mean, that’s …

REP. PAUL RYAN: From these countries or from — through the refugee population? From these countries, absolutely, from the refugee population.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

REP. PAUL RYAN: But the point is we know that ISIS is trying to infiltrate refugee populations. That is intelligence that has already been unclassified.

So, the question is, are we doing everything we need to guard against that? The point — I think you made a good point, though, which is, this isn’t a Muslim ban. If it were, I would be opposed to it. But the rhetoric surrounding it makes it look like it’s a ban on a religion or a religious test. And I think that rhetoric is inflammatory and doesn’t help us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that raises the question, because the president himself and others around him have talked about — they have talked about their preference for a Muslim ban.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, and I disagree with that. I disagree with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you confident that there will not…

REP. PAUL RYAN: I disagree with it now and I disagreed with it then. But that’s not what this is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I understand that. But my question is, are you confident this administration is not going in the direction ever of a Muslim ban?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, because we will — we will — I and many others around here would oppose that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A little bit more about your relationship with the White House.

We know that you are good friends with fellow Wisconsinite Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

REP. PAUL RYAN: He’s my constituent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.

My question is, how is your relationship with Steve Bannon, who, when he was at Breitbart News, took a special interest in you, called you the enemy after you became speaker?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I don’t really know him. I have gotten to know him two or three times. We have had a few meetings. We have gotten along fine.

He’s not someone I have a history with. Obviously, I didn’t know him when he was opposing me all those times. We’re different kinds of conservatives. That’s something I can safely say, I think. But we’re serving a purpose, which is to get this agenda passed.

And on this agenda that we have rolled out, that we ran on, on that, we agree. So I see a person in which I have a common cause and purpose with. We’re different kinds of conservatives. We really don’t know each other, but we’re all trying to get this agenda enacted. And that’s why I don’t see a problem here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia. You have said on a number of occasions you want to see the sanctions against Russia continued. President Trump, though, has made some not just conciliatory, but even complimentary comments in the last few days about President Putin. Were you shocked by that?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I just don’t see it that way. I just see it differently.

I think, first of all, I don’t subscribe to relativism, whether it’s in political philosophy, foreign policy or in life. So, I don’t think there is a moral equivalency here at all. So, I just disagree with any kind of notion of a moral equivalency.

There’s a gaping difference between the United States of America and Putin’s Russia. That’s point number one.

Point number two, I think what the president is trying to do is not unlike what the past two presidents did with Russia. I just don’t think it’s going to work. Remember when George W. Bush said I could see through his soul or something like that?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Trying to get close to Russia.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, he was trying to get close to Russia and trying to get close to Putin. George Bush did that. I don’t think it worked.

Remember Hillary Clinton with the reset button on behalf of Barack Obama, trying to get close to Russia, trying to smooth things out with Russia? New administrations do this. Now, it’s logical as to why they want to do this.

There are instances in which our interests align with Russia and there are those where they don’t. And so the question is, can we help steer Russia to being something that doesn’t conflict with our interests and something that — and a country that aligns with our interests?

I don’t personally — I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if this president were to relax sanctions against Russia…

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I don’t support that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … would you support legislation to prevent it?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, no, I think the advantages were overdue. I think President Obama should have done them a year ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you would support legislation to keep them strong?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I do support — yes, I have long supported sanctions on Russia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Turning domestic, to a subject that I think is close to your heart, tax reform. It has been your top legislative agenda.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, you see the smile? I just — I love the issue of tax reform. We haven’t done it since 1986. So, we think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, here we are, however many years that is later, 31 years.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I got my driver’s license the last year we did tax reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will the individual and the corporate tax cuts that you’re interested in the House passing be permanent? And will these cuts be revenue-neutral or will they require offsets?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes and yes.

Well, to be revenue-neutral, they will require offsets. So, we’re planning revenue-neutral tax reform, which means you have to take away loopholes and special interest deductions if you’re going to lower tax rates. That’s clearly what we’re working on doing. That’s what the House blueprint that we ran on does do.

It does affect both what we call the individual side of the tax code and the business side of the tax code. And we propose it on a revenue-neutral basis. And we also propose permanent tax reform.

When we did the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts in the Bush administration, those were only individual tax cuts, which you can actually make those temporary. You can’t do that on the business side of the code. It actually doesn’t work.

It produces a lot of uncertainty for businesses. You can’t completely redesign the budget tax system for nine-and-a-half years, and then flip it back in 10 years. It doesn’t work like that. So, it has to be permanent.

So, we do envision revenue-neutral tax reform that is permanent. With good comprehensive across-the-board tax reform, we really believe we can get the kind of economic growth we need which will solve so many problems we have in this country. And fundamental tax reform is critical, because now we have the worst tax code in the industrialized world, bar none.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, no domestic spending cuts? I ask because a Republican study group last year was talking about $7.5 trillion in spending cuts for 10 years.

REP. PAUL RYAN: That’s to balance the budget. That’s not to pay for tax reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I understand. But the public, the voters are going to look at this as connected.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, we have a budget problem, which is, we have a big budget deficit. And we have a debt crisis in the future because of spending.

So you have to reduce spending and reform the spending programs in and of themselves. Put tax reform aside. There’s no way — it’s mathematical. We are not going to be able to raise the kind of tax revenues to chase the kind of spending that is coming in the future.

So you have to get spending under control if you’re going to avert a debt crisis down the road.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Affordable Care Act, you have committed to repealing, replacing Obamacare.

One of your colleagues, Congressman Jim Jordan, has said — and I’m quoting him — “It’s so bad.” He said, Congress has to get rid of — quote — “every bit of it, every tax, every regulation, every mandate. It all has to be eliminated.”

Given that view, which a lot of Republicans share, would any piece of the current Affordable Care Act stand?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, so the reason Jim Jordan says that is because the architecture is just so wrong.

So, I think that was in reaction to some suggesting that we should sort of tinker around the edges and try and refine and repair the existing law. It is collapsing. And that’s not viable.

And so what we propose — and we ran on a replacement plan, by the way. So we have had a — long had a replacement plan for Obamacare. And that’s exactly what we’re focused on right now is building a replacement plan, so we repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered health care, which we are convinced will give us a better system at the end of the day.

Remember the promises of Obamacare, lower prices, more choices. Those things didn’t happen. We believe we can make good on those kind of promises, which is improve access to affordable health care coverage. Right now, people aren’t getting affordable health care coverage.

And so we really do believe, to get this right, you have to repeal and replace this law with something better. And that’s exactly what we ran on in 2016.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Including preexisting conditions are covered?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Absolutely, yes. We have long supported …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not something called continuous coverage, which isn’t the same thing?

REP. PAUL RYAN: No, no, there’s different ways of achieving preexisting conditions reform.

We think Obamacare went about it the exact wrong way to guarantee that people with preexisting conditions can get good affordable coverage. The goal here is, can people with preexisting — can a woman who got breast cancer when she was 45 still afford her health insurance?

That’s a goal we absolutely share. And we think there is a better way of achieving that goal than Obamacare, which just so you know, Judy, five states only have one plan left to choose from. One out of three counties in America have only one plan to choose from. Those are monopolies.

Seventy percent of counties in America have one or two plans to choose from. Those are duopolies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re also …

REP. PAUL RYAN: Massive price increases, massive deductible increases. The law is collapsing while we speak.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have talked about a split between — a trillion-dollar infrastructure split between the federal government and the private sector. What would the split be? Are we looking at a 50/50?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I don’t know the answer to that.

That’s something we would have to develop. We have asked our Transportation Committees. We have Elaine Chao, who just got sworn in as secretary of transportation, who has a long history and experience in transportation, to figure out how best we can maximize private sector dollars and leverage private sector dollars with public money to get the best bang for our buck on building out our infrastructure.

And so that’s something that we’re trying to figure out how best we can do for part of our legislative agenda later this summer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But to the extent you’re counting on the private sector to get involved, it’s known — we talk to the experts — they say private businesspeople don’t get involved in something like this unless there is an incentive, that they get some tax breaks.

REP. PAUL RYAN: That’s right, absolutely.

That’s what we believe. We believe, instead of just having a dollar of taxpayer money go to pay for a dollar of road construction, why don’t we take a dollar of taxpayer money to try and leverage many dollars of private sector money, so we have more money, federal, you know, taxpayer money, private sector money combined, so that we have even more impact on upgrading and modernizing our infrastructure?

The point is, how much bang for our buck can we get to have the best impact on modernizing American infrastructure? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A couple of questions about you in this position.

Michael Gerson, conservative thinker, writer …

REP. PAUL RYAN: We used to work together for Jack Kemp. He’s an old friend of mine.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right. That’s right.

Admires you, has written positively about you for years. He wrote yesterday that, with your acceptance of President Trump, he said you have embraced what he calls a Faustian bargain with open eyes, he said, a chance to enact legislation important to you, as long as you occasionally ignore your conscience.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Oh, I — that’s just a bunch of bull.

First of all, acceptance. The man got elected president of the United States. We live in a constitutional republic. So, what’s the suggestion here, that we should just ignore democracy, ignore the will of the people, ignore the Electoral College, and not work with who was elected president?

I worked with the last president, Barack Obama. I didn’t agree with him on much, but I worked with him. Now I have a president who agrees with and embraces the agenda that we ran on in 2016, who gives us a great chance of fixing really big problems in America.

Have we seen eye to eye on everything over the last year? Of course not. No two people do. But — so I just — I reject the premise of this notion that the head of the legislative branch of government should just reject the duly elected head of the executive branch of government. That makes no sense to me.

I think what people want to see happen in government is people work together to solve problems. People work together to iron out their differences, to make good on making a difference in people’s lives and fix this country’s problems. That is what I believe I was elected to do. And that’s what I’m doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What came through to me in what Michael Gerson wrote was that he doesn’t sense that you’re standing up to this president on things that he thought, Michael Gerson thought you believed in.

REP. PAUL RYAN: I’m just not going to comment on the tweet of the hour, the comment of the day.

I’m focused on getting an agenda done. I’m focused on making Congress work. I’m focused on making good on our promises that we made when we ran that I’m trying to implement now that we have — now that the election is over.

So I’m just not going to spend my days focusing on things that are outside of my control as speaker of the House. I’m going to focus on my days focusing on making progress on the issues that care to people and not on the random comment of the day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In connection with that, your great mentor was the late congressman, New York Congressman Jack Kemp, described himself as a big-tent Republican.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of people look at Donald Trump, they don’t see a big-tent Republican. How do you reconcile?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, well, I think he is. He’s just a different kind of a big-tent Republican.

I am more of the Jack Kemp aspirational, inclusive. I believe in the Kempian philosophy and the style of politics. But Donald Trump brought a whole bunch of blue-collar — I can tell you, just in Wisconsin, just the numbers, he won Wisconsin for the first time since 1984.

That’s expanding the Republican tent. He won Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. That’s expanding the Republican tent. We used to call them Reagan Democrats. Now they’re Trump Democrats. These are people I grew up with, went to high school with, worked at the GM plant that’s gone now in Janesville, blue-collar, union households that just now voted for a Republican for president.

That’s expanding the tent, I would say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, the only thing that I am told that Paul Ryan of Wisconsin might like as much as tax cuts and the Republican Party is the Green Bay Packers.

REP. PAUL RYAN: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, after the Sunday Super Bowl …

REP. PAUL RYAN: I’m one of the team owners.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, after the Sunday Super Bowl, do you now acknowledge that …

REP. PAUL RYAN: Oh, you’re going to put me in this position. This is the hardest question.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Brady, best NFL quarterback ever?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Look, the Lombardi Trophy is what you get. I will concede that Bill Belichick is probably the best coach ever.

Brady and Rodgers aren’t done with their careers yet. So, ask me when the two of them are done with their careers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re not ready to concede that?

REP. PAUL RYAN: I’m not ready to concede, because neither of them are done with their careers. But I will concede Belichick.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, thank you.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Thank you, Judy.

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