House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election this year, a decision welcomed by conservatives who see Ryan as a great disappointment during his years running the House of Representatives.
“I’m happy to see him go,” said former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who now leads the Senate Conservatives Fund, which recruits conservative candidates to run against Senate Democrats and liberal Republicans.
“As establishmentarians go, he’s a very nice guy, but he has stabbed conservatives in the back. He has made public promises that he hasn’t kept on very basic things like how he was going to run the House. He has gone back on those promises,” said Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli says in almost three years as House Speaker, Ryan has only managed to turn one major campaign promise into law when the tax reform bill was enacted late in 2017.
“They literally have one thing to show for his tenure in the House and that’s that tax reform bill. There’s nothing else positive to point to except – look I’m really anti-regulation and I really appreciate them peeling out one regulation at a time – but in the big picture, that’s small potatoes,” said Cuccinelli.
The most recent example of Cuccinelli’s frustration is Ryan agreeing to the $1.3 trillion omnibus that jacks up domestic spending along with defense spending. Ryan defenders say the House did pass individual spending bills at more responsible levels but the omnibus became necessary because the Senate could not find the votes to tackle the appropriations bills one at a time.
Cuccinelli says Ryan should have rejected any idea of an omnibus bill and insisted that the Senate approach the bills one at a time, negotiating only when the Senate passed something.
“That’s all he should have done. This whole complaining schtick about the Senate doesn’t go anywhere when they can actually stick the Senate with the work they’ve done and they refuse to do it,” said Cuccinelli, who also blames President Trump for the massive spending increases.
“This is weak-kneed stuff and the president shouldn’t have signed the bill. ‘Oh gosh, this is a terrible bill and I’m going to sign it but I’m never going to sign one again.’ How outrageous is that? That’s a real failure on the part of the president,” said Cuccinelli.
Ryan also managed to get a health care bill through the House, although the idea fizzled in the Senate. Cuccinelli says the House bill was no triumph of conservatism.
“It’s the biggest promise in yours and my political lifetime. Not only did Mitch McConnell betray us on that but if you look at what Paul Ryan put through, you will see that it would basically leave us with the outer structure of Obamacare. They liked to call it ‘skinny repeal.’ What that means is this is not repeal,” said Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli also blasts Ryan for reneging on a vow to the House Freedom Caucus to restore then-Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, to the House Agriculture Committee as a way to win caucus support for his candidacy for Speaker of the House. But after pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and others, Ryan refused to return Huelskamp from the panel.
So who should be the House GOP leader now? The names most commonly mentioned are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.
McCarthy is next in line in leadership but Scalise is likely to be a sentimental favorite after his comeback from last year’s congressional baseball shooting.
Cuccinelli says Scalise is the perfect example of who conservatives should not want in leadership.
“Scalise used to be a conservative. What he would tell you is you can’t do that and be in leadership. Let’s reinterpret that. So you can’t keep your principles if you take this particular job, and when you had to choose between the two you had to abandon your principles for this title. OK, and now you want us to make you speaker?” asked Cuccinelli.
However, Cuccinelli says McCarthy is worse.
“McCarthy is going to claim a closer relationship with Trump, but McCarthy really is unacceptable to a broad swath of the caucus,” said Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli wants to see Re. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus ascend to lead House Republicans.
“Jordan is the kind of person who can gather up that kind of support because he has been such a professional. You can’t cast him as a firebrand, but he has stood for principles and sought to use the power of the House to advance the principles they all campaigned on. What a concept,” said Cuccinelli.
If someone like McCarthy or Scalise emerges as leader, Cuccinelli suspects the intense GOP friction will continue.
“As long as [Ryan] and the rest of that leadership make war on the conservative base that elects them, we will not have peace in the Republican Party,” said Cuccinelli.
He also believes the Republicans are headed to a bloodbath in the midterm elections unless they get a lot done on spending, immigration, and more in the next few months.
“If all you have to show to your entire base is one bill, you’re going to get wiped out. They’ve got to get work done in the next six months, or they’re going to be arguing about (who becomes) minority leader, not speaker,” said Cuccinelli.