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House Speaker Paul Ryan decides to leave on his own terms, adding pressure for GOP

The man who is third in line of succession to the presidency, the most powerful Republican in Congress, is calling it a career and will not seek re-election. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's decision today rippled up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, and beyond. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss how other Republicans are reacting and the race to fill his role.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A day of upheaval in the ranks of Republicans.

    The man who is third in line of succession to the presidency, the most powerful Republican in Congress, is calling it a career and will not seek reelection.

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's decision today rippled up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    An exceedingly rare announcement.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    This year will be my last one as a member of the House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced he is voluntarily retiring, leaving on his own terms, after two-and-a-half years in the job.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    You all know I didn't seek this job; I took it reluctantly. But I have given this job everything that I have. And I have no regrets whatsoever for having accepted this responsibility.

    What I realize is that if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can't let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life, but I will also be leaving incredibly proud of what we have accomplished.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Ryan and his wife, Janna, have three children, now teenagers. They were in elementary and middle school when he campaigned for the vice presidency in 2012.

    For Republicans, months of rumors about a Ryan retirement didn't water down the drama.

  • Rep. Peter King, R N.Y.:

    I was surprised. Paul's going to be missed. He's obviously doing it for his family. I wish him well.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As did others.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    Like a true leader, Paul stepped up to the plate. He answered his colleagues' call with exactly the earnest, selfless and focused approach that has defined his entire career in Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Donald Trump called Ryan a truly good man.

    Well-wishes aside, Ryan's decision adds a new fight for House Republicans, a highly unusual leadership fight in a tough election year. At the moment, it's a two-person race between Ryan's top deputies, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise.

    McCarthy is a California Republican, known for a friendship with President Trump and for a failed run at speaker in 2015. Scalise is from a more traditional Republican state, Louisiana. He endorsed candidate Trump in the spring of 2016 and he is known for surviving last year's congressional baseball shooting.

    Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows.

  • Rep. Mark Meadows, R-S.C.:

    Well, I think everybody will start jockeying for position immediately. They won't wait for nine months.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is a GOP leadership race as the party fights to keep its majority, raising questions of whether Ryan's retirement projects defeat.

    Fellow retiring member Ryan Costello, at least, disputes that.

  • Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Penn.:

    Members running for reelection will be able to run on the record that Paul, through his very stellar leadership, was able to provide.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Pennsylvania's Charlie Dent says this election will be about President Trump, not Paul Ryan.

  • Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn.:

    The litmus test for being a Republican these days is not about any given set of ideals or principles. It's about loyalty to the man. It's not about Paul Ryan.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Ryan's legacy, and with it, his party's standing, is unclear. He achieved a goal he outlined as an incoming congressman 20 years ago, tax reform.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    I think all Americans deserve tax relief. You're right. The middle class are paying the highest proportion of taxes in this country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Ryan failed on another conservative goal, and he will leave office with the U.S. facing an avalanche of debt.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    More work needs to be done. And it really is entitlements. That's where the work needs to be done. And I'm going to keep fighting for that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    How he will keep fighting out of office is not clear. Sources close to Ryan say he doesn't have plans for his next job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, let me come to you, Yamiche.

    The White House took this news. We don't know whether they knew ahead of time. But what are they saying the president believes about this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A source that I spoke to today at the White House, who spoke to the president about Paul Ryan's decision, said that the president is very worried that Paul Ryan's decision could mean that a wave of other Republicans, more than there are now, might also seek to retire.

    That is because the president really feels as though Republicans might be worried about the midterms, worried about the tough challenges that they're facing. I asked Majority Whip Steve Scalise about this specifically. I said, does the president have worry about the fact that Republicans might be retiring?

    He said, we're facing a very tough political climate, and that they're hoping to recruit more people. So he didn't really — he didn't push back at all on the idea that Republicans are very worried about what Paul Ryan's decision might mean for their party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what about on the Hill? What are they saying there about — we know there are, what, already, 24 or so retirements. What are they say about possibly more?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Well, in all, there are some 40 — more than 40 Republicans in the House who are leaving that chamber for various reasons, some running for other offices like the Senate or governor. So that, Judy, is a sixth to a fifth of the entire conference.

    You ask them, does this mean that the election is doomed for you? Is this a bad sign? They almost said today, Judy, election? What election? No, this isn't about Paul Ryan.

    But clearly this is a conference that is very nervous about perception. They do think, as I think Charlie Dent said in the piece, that President Trump may be more of an issue than Mr. Ryan on the ballot. But they want to make sure to keep Paul Ryan's Wisconsin seat as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, while we're talking about that, you mentioned the race to replace Paul Ryan. And you mentioned the two other — his deputies, in effect, McCarthy and Scalise.

    We heard — I think it was one of the people you interviewed said the jockeying is going to start immediately. I guess it was Mark Meadows.

    What kind of jockeying? What are we looking at?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Get ready. I don't think — we are not going to have an answer to who will be the next speaker any time soon, because, Judy, this isn't just a race for the speakership.

    Because the next two in line are running against each other essentially right now, that means all five of the top Republican leadership spots in the House are up for grabs. So then you could have a five-way, 10-way, 12-way kind of race, many different members trying to get involved, many different interest groups, including the Freedom Caucus, trying to get their foot into leadership.

    You could see some combinations of people trying to form alliances together. All of this very up in the air right now. The expected timeline for this leadership race is still January. Maybe it will happen earlier, but right now that looks more likely. And that will be decided not by the current members of the House Republican Conference, but by new members as well.

    All in all, Judy, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky maybe said the best thing of anyone to me today. He said, this is kind of like a NASCAR race right now, many laps to go and there could actually be some spectacular crashes ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wow.

    Well, so, Yamiche, I don't think know if they're talking about the race to replace Paul Ryan at the White House. But what else are they saying about the president's role in all this? Clearly, there's been criticism that the president's rhetoric is complicating life for some of these Republicans as they seek to win reelection, making it easier maybe for others.

    How do they see this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president sees himself as an asset.

    I asked Sarah Sanders, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary for the White House, what the president thinks about himself, what he thinks about the idea that he might be the person that is hurting his own party's chances in these elections, and she said that he is going to be out campaigning, that he sees himself as someone who can talk about the tax bill, who can talk about ISIS, who can really make the case for Republicans.

    Of course, that is completely not what Republicans are saying. I was on the Hill today. And Republicans are saying they're very worried about his role. Tonight, there are going to be congressional leaders actually going to have dinner with the president at the White House at 6:30.

    So there's going to be a lot to talk about there, because they're going to have to talk about whether or not their legislative agenda is hurt by Paul Ryan stepping down or stepping aside. The source that I talked to at the White House said they're unsure of how President Trump's legislative agenda is going to go forward with Paul Ryan not seeking reelection.

    They aren't sure that it's going to hurt them, but they don't know if it's going to help.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's never dull at those gatherings, but tonight they're going to have a lot to talk about.

    Yamiche Alcindor reporting, and our own Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thanks.

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