WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) attempted in an interview airing Sunday to frame his legacy on his own terms, brushing off the criticism that he facilitated President Donald Trump’s makeover of the Republican Party.
The speaker announced last week that he plans to retire at the end of his term to spend more time with his family. Ryan is finishing his career in Congress under Trump, a man he repeatedly criticized during the 2016 presidential campaign for racially charged, derogatory and vulgar statements and proposals but whose agenda he has helped enact.
NBC’ “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked Ryan about the criticism that he enabled the rise of Trump.
“Enabling ― So, so what did we do?” Ryan asked in the interview, which took place on Friday, according to a transcript provided by NBC News. He went on to spotlight what he sees as his own achievements ― such as establishing empowerment zones in poor communities, passing tax reform and spurring economic growth ― and said he hopes to accomplish more this year.
When pressed about Trump, Ryan said that they had agreed on an agenda, but wouldn’t say definitively whether they shared a vision for the GOP. “You’d have to ask him that,” Ryan said, adding that he and the president differed on policies for trade and some entitlement programs, but are “rolling in the same direction” on most things.
“Sure, no two people are going to agree on everything,” Ryan said. “We have different styles. We have different ideas. But it’s a big tent party. And we represent different corners of the tent.”
Todd read him a quote from former Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes, who said of Ryan, “When people write the history of this era, it will be the triumph of Trumpism over Ryanism, and that’s got to be a bitter pill to swallow.”
“I just don’t see it like that,” Ryan said.
The speaker also said that though it is Congress’ role to serve as a check on the executive branch if there is abuse of civil liberties or power, he didn’t see a need for one potential action: a bill that would bar the president from firing special counsel Robert Mueller. The Justice Department special counsel is investigating whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election.
Trump sought to have Mueller fired in December, The New York Times reported last week. The president denied that report and said he is taking a cooperative approach to dealing with the special counsel.
Ryan said that he did not think a bill to protect Mueller, which a bipartisan group of senators are pushing, would be necessary because the White House was not going to fire him.
“I don’t think he should be fired. I think he should be left to do his job,” Ryan said of Mueller. “And I don’t think they’re really contemplating this.”