The Paul Ryan Express: Punching His Ticket to K Street

Months after announcing his plans to retire from Congress, why is Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) still Speaker of the House?

It’s hard to imagine anyone less willing or able to lead House Republicans into a must-win November election than this guy. At this point, it’s not clear Ryan even wants his side to win. Joining the disruptive element is not how you cash in after a long career on Capitol Hill.

Keep in mind, Washington’s political economy makes lobbyists some of the best-paid middlemen in the business, a business that likes harmonious predictability. So it’s not surprising that roughly 25 percent of all former members follow the path of least resistance to an office on K Street.

But for a top prospect like Ryan transitioning to the life of a seven- or eight-figure lobbyist is complicated by fallout from what might be called the “Trump effect.”

The congressional brand can only lead to greener pastures as long as it’s not tainted by sustained public criticism. That’s the problem. Attacking the entire political class, including Congress, is how Donald Trump got elected president, and since then there’s been no let-up.

Retiring members used to have little trouble selling their services as honest brokers. Now, thanks to Trump, they’re seen as swamp creatures, no better than the bottom-dwelling lobbyists many want to become.

And that was before the Russia probe, Spygate, and the latest inspector general’s report sent shock waves far and wide. The resulting sense of uncertainty already has some of K Street’s biggest customers downsizing their investment in lobbying. Not good news for Ryan and many of his departing colleagues.

Does anyone really care if lobbyists are having a tough time? Not most Americans. But Paul Ryan does. They’re his constituents. His modus operandi has always been to defend them any way he can.

In fact, the only person in Washington Ryan will not defend is President Donald Trump.  

When asked during the campaign if he would be supporting Trump, Ryan famously replied, “I’m not there yet.” Congress-speak meaning: “What’s in it for me?”

With Trump in the White House, Ryan has made it obvious he’s not backing a president who’s a threat to Washington’s lucrative status quo.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)—doing the work Ryan refuses to do—has been waiting for over a year for the Justice Department to stop stonewalling. What Nunes wants are documents related to the original FBI investigation into alleged Trump-Russia collusion, documents almost certain to prove the accusation completely bogus.

At a recent press conference, Ryan said: “We received an oral briefing two weeks ago. But what we are asking for—and what we require and we expect, is the corroborating documents that back up that oral briefing.”

Then in pleading tones, he added, “Honestly, it’s our job to conduct oversight.”

Ryan could have taken much more forceful measures long ago to compel delivery; true to form he didn’t do anything that might make waves.

October will mark Ryan’s third full year serving as the speaker at an annual salary of $223,500. If he waits to retire until next January, his yearly pension would be $84,930, according to an analysis by Business Insider. If he retires now, his pension would be reduced, but not by much. And it’s not like he’ll need the money.

Is Ryan, 48, who’s spent 24 years working on Capitol Hill, hanging on to the Speaker’s job for an extra few thousand in benefits? Retirement-obsessed Washington bureaucrats do that all the time.

Whatever the case, a groundswell is building in the Republican Caucus to push Ryan aside. Many are hoping it succeeds—and soon.

Meanwhile, every time Ryan makes Trump look bad the opposition media praises him as a decisive leader. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see he’s just the opposite. Ryan has been a total failure as House Speaker. He’s a careerist, who never says or does anything that involves the slightest risk.

Compare him to Nunes, who’s been relentless in his pursuit of high-level wrongdoing in the Justice Department, FBI, and elsewhere, while Ryan pretends not to notice.

As for swamp draining, don’t look to Ryan for any parting instructions. With six months to go before the current Congress reaches his “sell-by” date, Paul Ryan has already shown what he’s worth.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

About Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas is the author of Club Fed: Power, Money Sex and Violence on Capitol Hill as well as other books, and the co-author of Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia. He is also a former editor and writer with The Economist Group.

Photo: WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) returns to the room after a short break during a House Republican closed door meeting on immigration June 21, 2018 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Due to the defeat of a conservative immigration bill today, House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on a "compromise" immigration proposal until next week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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