Speaker of the House

The Impossible Successor

#PresidentRyan | ¿#WhatTheyVotedFor?

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Amid everything else over the last week or so, we ought not forget this:

We’re left with an unsettling picture. Flynn told the transition team he’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, and either that information either reached Pence or it didn’t. If Pence was out of the loop, he was dangerously incompetent at his job. If Pence knew, and Flynn became National Security Advisor anyway, that’s worse.

Remember, as the turmoil surrounding Flynn grew more serious, the vice president said he was completely unaware of Flynn’s alleged misdeeds. In March, when Fox News asked Pence about Flynn having to register as a foreign agent, Pence said he was hearing the story for the first time.

Except, as Rachel has explained on the show, that’s literally unbelievable. Not only were there multiple news reports for months about Flynn’s foreign work, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Pence’s transition team to make sure Team Trump was aware of this.

(Benen)

Because, quite frankly, it still cracks me up that once upon a time, when Rubio was fumbling for water, Paul was drowning in plagiarism, and Christie apparently had nothing to do with that bridge, we might have heard Mike Pence’s name whispered as the cyclical dark horse. The Indiana governor, by Republican accounts, was politically savvy and a dedicated conservative. And while others might disagree about the savvy, it seemed for naught when he signed a RFRA and failed to comprehend what happened next. Except, of course, his dramatic revitalization as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, and then vice president. It was easy enough to joke that we might yet see a President Pence.

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A Conservative Fallacy: Dualism (Bust It or Bust)

#ryancare | #trumpcare

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is a basic conservative fallacy:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is selling the Republicans’ health care bill the same way he did the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. But on the health front, his pitch is falling flat with conservatives.

“Binary choice” is the phrase the Wisconsin Republican used during the presidential election to describe his reason for supporting Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Ryan acknowledged throughout the campaign that both candidates were flawed but Trump was the better of two options, the only one who would help Republicans advance their legislative agenda.

“It really comes down to a binary choice,” the speaker said Thursday during his weekly press conference about moving forward with the GOP’s plan or leaving in place the 2010 health care law.

“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” Ryan said. “The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen.”

(McPherson)

The only subtlety about it is Speaker Ryan’s lack of subtlety.

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The Elephant in the Ointment

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

(sigh) This feels familiar:

Here we go again. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) say their proposals for repealing and “replacing” the Affordable Care Act will be ready really, really soon. Next month, in fact.

And they swear this won’t be like the other million times Republicans have made the same promise and failed to follow through.

Trump and Ryan made their comments at separate news conferences on Thursday, a few hours apart. Ryan’s came after a closed-door House meeting in which he and his lieutenants presented the broad brushstrokes―again―of what they are calling a “repeal plus” strategy.

(Young and Cohn)

So, a couple things go here. Like a personal note: This was disappointing. When the first chyrons broke, it seemed at least as if everyone was gearing up to finally have it out about the mythical Republican plan. And for at least a few minutes, readers and pundits tried to pretend they were. But that leads to the second, which might have something to do with Congressional Republican leadership, because apparently “repeal plus”, the replacement for “repeal and delay”, which was the longer, lazier route compared to prior advocacy for “repeal and replace”―and we keep getting signs this approach isn’t working―is probably a better name than “repeal and stumble around”.

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A Dwindling Conservative Pretense

#PutiToots | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

“Note, in this three-sentence statement, Team Trump (1) attacked the U.S. intelligence community in order to defend Russia; (2) flagrantly lied about the 2016 election results; and (3) and made no effort to deny the accuracy of the revelations, saying instead that we should ‘move on,’ rather than acknowledge Russian intervention in the American election, which Republicans chose to overlook, apparently to advance their own interests.”

Steve Benen

This is, genuinely, extraordinary. For all people wish to carry on about “both sides” and all that, some days it seems worth noting that there really is a difference.

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Keystone Courage (Trumping Toomey)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).  (Photo: Getty Images)Steve Benen summarizes―

So, after dodging an easy question for nearly a year, Toomey will put off voting until late in the afternoon―75 minutes before polls close―and then he’ll grudgingly make an announcement about his preference.

―and on this occasion I must dissent: This is, quite clearly, not an easy question.

Ask Speaker Ryan; I hear the question started getting to him, by the end.

To the other, hemming and hawing probably beats attempting the dangerous and unadmired flip-flop-flip. Better to stand around looking like an idiot than to open your mouth and insist. Wait, that’s not how it goes, is it? Never mind. Republicans. The Party of Accountability. Values. Principles. Astounding. Or not. Whatever.

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Image notes: Top ― Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube). Right ― U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). (Photo: Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Paul Ryan and the candidate who must not be named”. msnbc. 1 November 2016.

—————. “Paul Ryan’s principles waver at election’s finish line”. msnbc. 7 November 2016.

—————. “Pennsylvania’s Toomey not through playing presidential games”. msnbc. 8 November 2016.

—————. “Under fire from the right, Ryan condemns a Democratic dystopia”. msnbc. 18 October 2016.

The Donald Trump Show (One Man Wreck)

Donald Trump speaks to South Carolina voters in North Charleston, 19 February 2016. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It really is hard to keep up:

FiveThirtyEight undertakes the obvious question―“Is This What It Looks Like When A Party Falls Apart?”―and, well, the answer is about as vague as you might imagine, but the conversation is either worth your time or not.

(Maggie Koerth-Baker’s feature on “The Secret Lives Of Rocks” is probably a more enriching read while offering just as much utility in comprehending the election in general or Republicans in particular.)

Nate Silver offers a headline that ought to be encouraging: “Women are defeating Donald Trump”.

Jack Shafer of Politico reminds why the devastating Trump video footage is “The Least Surprising ‘Surprise’ of the Campaign”.

• Speaking of Politico that is where historian Josh Zeitz recalls Horace Greely, whose death shortly after the 1872 election represents “the last time a major-party presidential candidate was unable to make it to the actual vote of the Electoral College”, which in turn raises all manner of whispers and rumors about potential chaos, thus somehow inspiring the question, “Is a Historic Hail Mary Possible for the GOP?”

• The Associated Press, by dint of its reporting, obliges an interesting question about Rudy Giuliani: If “Giuliani says Trump is better for the US ‘than a woman'”, how much longer is society oblieged to give just how much of a damn about what Rudy Giuliani has to say?

Phillip Bump chastises Kurt Eichenwald for missing a deleted tweet, or something, and, really, there’s nothing that could possibly go wrong with being so definitive as “The Trump-Putin link that wasn’t”.

• Also at WaPo, Aaron Blake explains, “Kellyanne Conway just demonstrated how impossible it is to defend Donald Trump right now”, which by no means should be construed as any reason to feel sorry for her; she did this to herself.

• Speaking of self-infliction, Matthew Rozsa of Salon takes a moment or three to marvel at how “The big loser in Donald Trump’s war against the GOP is Ted Cruz somehow”, and the only part of that we might contest is the last word, which seems to suggest uncertainty, though in the end the difference between Ted Cruz and the nation is a matter of priorities―some people reasonably argue that the American people are the biggest losers, but the American people also did this to themselves, and in any practical question that doesn’t render itself moot, yes, Ted Cruz is, well, a big freaking loser. Oh, right; but I digress.

Jonathan Swan of The Hill broke an interesting headline: “Trump campaign CEO wanted to destroy Ryan”.

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Image note: Donald Trump speaks to South Carolina voters in North Charleston, 19 February 2016. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Something About the Speaker (Footnote Fury)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI01) speaks at his primary night press conference, 9 August 2016, in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“The new Paul Ryan tax cuts make the Bush tax cuts look like socialism.”

Jonathan Chait

Steve Benen frames the issue well enough:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has largely pulled off an impressive public-relations gambit in recent years. The Republican leader has recast himself as an anti-poverty crusader, without making any meaningful changes to his far-right agenda, simply by using the word “poverty” a whole lot.

But it’s occasionally worthwhile to look past the rhetoric and focus on the hard data ....

.... Ryan’s tax plan is crafted in such a way as to give 99.6% of the benefits to the wealthiest of the wealthy by 2025. The other 0.4% would be divided up across the other 99% of us.

This is a feature, not a bug, of the House Speaker’s approach to economic policy. Ryan genuinely believes that massive tax breaks for those at the very top will spur economic growth that would, in time, benefit everyone. For the Wisconsin congressman, trickle-down policy, its track record notwithstanding, remains the most responsible course to broad national prosperity.

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The Donald Trump Show (Ryan Rescue Remix)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, Virginia, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)

Amid the astounding spectacle that really is the Donald Trump Show, there does arise the occasional substantive issue. And while the averages describe the Republican nominee’s spectacle in abysmal terms, the substantive questions that do arise just don’t seem to help. To wit, Steve Benen reflects on the fine print:

House Speaker Paul Ryan talks to reporters following the weekly House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol, 16 December 2016, in Washington. D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)To the Trump campaign’s credit, the commercial includes footnotes of sorts for many of its core claims. For example, at the 15-second mark, when the narrator says “working families get tax relief” in Trump’s America, there’s small text at the bottom that reads, “A Pro-Growth Tax Code For All Americans, GOP: A Better Way, 6/24/16.”

Why does that matter? Because “A Pro-Growth Tax Code For All Americans, GOP: A Better Way, 6/24/16” is House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tax plan, not Donald Trump’s. They’re actually pretty different, and include their own marginal rates, which makes it odd for Trump to cite the House GOP’s plan as if it were his own.

A couple of seconds later, the same ad includes fine print that reads, “‘Details and analysis of the 2016 House Republican Tax Reform Plan,’ Tax Foundation, 7/15/16.” And while I’d take issue with the center-right Tax Foundation’s analysis of Ryan’s plan, the point is, again, that Trump has a different plan.

At the 19-second mark, note that the fine print reads, “‘Details and analysis of Donald Trump’s Tax Plan, Tax Foundation, 9/29/15.” And while that’s certainly closer to being applicable, what the ad doesn’t mention is that Trump has since abandoned that tax plan, unveiling a new blueprint three weeks ago.

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Something About the Bill and the Beard

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

So it goes that Scott Wong of The Hill should report on conservative dissatisfaction with the recent spending omnibus Speaker Ryan managed to push through the House:

Outside the Beltway, the right is livid with new Speaker Paul Ryan’s trillion-dollar spending deal with Democrats.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.”

Sounds about right.

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Image note: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

Wong, Scott. “Fury of the right falls on Ryan”. The Hill. 26 December 2015.

The Ryan Budget (Murmur Mix)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“When the next Democratic speaker wants to spend $350 billion over ten years to make public colleges tuition-free for undergraduates, the system will turn in knots to make it seem like we’re broke and can’t afford it. But when Speaker Ryan wants $350 billion to help multinational corporations lower their tax burdens, the system will clear the runway as quickly as possible for these vital and necessary investments.”

David T. S. Jonas

Anyone giving even a modicum of attention to the manner in which Congress actually works can understand why the Ryan Budget seems like a fine accomplishment, but it is also, to the one, a “kind of backroom deal that offers real concessions to Democrats and blows up the deficit wasn’t the change insurgent Republicans were looking for when they ousted John Boehner”, Ezra Klein explained; more directly, he continues that in the larger context the lesson is, “No one cares about the deficit―or, at the very least, everyone cares about other priorities more than they care about the deficit.” "If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head." (Jim Newell, Slate, 16 December 2015) To the other, we might also beg leave to wonder at what Matt Fuller and Jennifer Bendery described as the “massive spending bill that nobody especially likes”. Jim Newell summarizes, “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head”.

And there is merit in the idea that nobody is wholly satisfied, but it also says something important that compromise means lowered expectations. Something about competition and partnership goes here.

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Image notes: Top ― House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Left ― Via Jim Newell of Slate: “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head.”

French, Lauren. “Ryan: Budget package a true compromise”. Politico. 15 December 2015.

Fuller, Matt and Jennifer Bendery. “Congress Ready To Pass Massive Spending Bill That Nobody Especially Likes”. The Huffington Post. 16 December 2015.

Jonas, David T. S. “Maybe Rush Limbaugh has a point: Paul Ryan just blew up the deficit, and Democrats are letting him”. Salon. 19 December 2015.

Klein, Ezra. “The big new budget deal, explained”. Vox. 18 December 2015.

Newell, Jim. “The Paul Ryan Compromise”. Slate. 16 December 2015.

The Times Editorial Board. “Ryan shows compromises can be reached in the House without brinkmanship”. 17 December 2015.