Claiming he’s accomplished a “heck of a lot,” House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election and will retire next year, injecting another layer of uncertainty as Republicans face worries over losing their majority in the fall.
The Wisconsin Republican cast the decision as a personal one, saying he did not want his children growing up with a “weekend dad.”
“This has been one of the two greatest honors of my life,” Ryan said of his time as speaker. But he added that “it’s easy for it to take over everything in your life, and you can’t just let that happen.”
“I will be setting new priorities in my life,” Ryan said, explaining that he wants to make the most of being a husband and father, which he said is “another great honor of my life.”
Ryan, the 24th House Republican who has decided not to seek re-election, according to NBC News, said he would finish his full term and officially retire in January. He told reporters he believes he’s leaving with strong accomplishments his party can sell to voters ahead of November elections.
“I think we have achieved a heck of a lot,” Ryan told reporters, adding that he has “given this job everything I have” and will leave with “no regrets whatsoever.”
Ryan’s plans have been the source of much speculation and will set off a scramble among his lieutenants to take the helm. A self-styled budget guru, Ryan had made tax cuts a centerpiece of his legislative agenda, and a personal cause, and Congress delivered on that late last year.
Ryan, who has had a difficult relationship with President Donald Trump, thanked the president for giving him the chance to move the GOP ahead.
Before Ryan spoke at the press conference, Trump tweeted: “Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!”
The 48-year-old has been the representative for Wisconsin’s 1st District since 1999.
In 2012, Ryan ran alongside GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney as the party’s vice presidential candidate, but the team lost to former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Romney spoke out on Ryan’s leadership, tweeting that it was his “love of country” that compelled him to step up in “a role he alone could fill at a critical time.”
Ryan was pulled into the speaker role by the abrupt retirement of House Speaker John Boehner in 2015. Boehner had struggled to wrangle the chamber’s restless conservative wing and failed to the seal big-picture deals on fiscal policy he sought. Ryan had more trust with the hardliners in the House, but had no more success in brokering fundamental reform of entitlement he sought.
He ultimately had to wrestle with another unexpected challenge: President Donald Trump, a president with little of Ryan’s interest in policy detail or ideological purity. The two have had not had a close working relationship.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California known to be tighter with Trump, is expected to seek the speaker post. He will likely compete with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, for the job. Both men spoke at the closed-door meeting Wednesday, delivering tributes to Ryan.
Scalise didn’t answer questions about his potential to fill Ryan’s leadership seat, saying on Fox News that “we’re getting ahead of ourselves.” But he praised his colleague in a statement, saying Ryan has served with “great dignity” and has worked together to “pass groundbreaking conservative reforms like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that are making life better for the American people.” Scalise called him a “great friend.”
In Wisconsin, the most likely Republican candidate is state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, multiple Republicans in the state said. Vos did not immediately return telephone or text messages.
Another Republican mentioned as a potential candidate is longtime Ryan family friend and Ryan backer Bryan Steil, an attorney and member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Steil did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Democrat Randy Bryce, a colorful ironworker who has cultivated an “IronStache” moniker, had been Ryan’s best-known challenger, drawing liberal support from around the country. He had nearly $2.3 million in the bank at the end of the first quarter. Janesville teacher Cathy Myers was also running on the Democratic side. The only declared Republican was Paul Nehlen, who was banned from Twitter for a series of posts criticized as racist or anti-Semitic.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Ryan’s departure from Congress won’t be a clean break. The group said in a statement in response to the reports that for “vulnerable House Republicans,” Ryan’s “historically unpopular and failed policies will hang over their reelections like a dark cloud.”
The group added: “Stay tuned for more retirements.”
The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee disagreed, saying in a statement that Ryan’s “leadership has transformed our nation” and that his vision for tax reform “sparked a new era of American prosperity and confidence.”
“Make no mistake: our mission to hold the House continues unabated,” chairman Steve Stivers said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Ryan “an avid advocate for his point of view and for the people of his district.”
“Despite our differences, I commend his steadfast commitment to our country,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “During his final months, Democrats are hopeful that he joins us to work constructively to advance better futures for all Americans.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed Ryan on the Senate floor and said he “stepped up to the plate” in the House. McConnell added that Ryan’s legacy has been secured by the tax cuts passed last year, saying that “thanks in large part to his personal passion and expertise … our economy is charting a new course toward greater prosperity and greater opportunity.”