Ryan comes up short in test of Trump’s leg­isla­tive agenda,

Speaker who had vowed a win was new to huge task.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Tay­lor

House Speaker Paul Ryan guar­an­teed a win on the Repub­li­can plan to dis­man­tle Barack Obama’s health care law. In­stead, he suf­fered a bru­tal de­feat, can­cel­ing a vote and ad­mit­ting “we’re go­ing to be liv­ing with Oba­macare for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

Fri­day’s sting­ing re­buke is an omi­nous sign for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda, from taxes to in­fra­struc­ture to the bud­get. Loom­ing in a few weeks is the need to agree on a bill to keep the gov­ern­ment open. Af­ter the health care de­ba­cle, Trump told Repub­li­can lead­ers he’s mov­ing on.

The episode is a dan­ger point for the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and Ryan, who had an awk­ward pair­ing dur­ing the cam­paign but worked in tan­dem on the GOP health mea­sure.

“I like Speaker Ryan,” Trump said. “I think Paul re­ally worked hard.”

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery con­gres­sional Repub­li­can won elec­tion promis­ing to re­peal Oba­macare. With a Repub­li­can in the White House, pas­sage seemed al­most guar­an­teed.

Ryan was steeped in the de­tails, even at one point repli­cat­ing for a na­tion­wide ca­ble news au­di­ence a de­tailed Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion he de­liv­ered to his mem­bers.

Ear­lier this month, he said flatly, “We’ll have 218 (votes) when this thing comes to the floor, I can guar­an­tee you that.”

Ryan was thrust into the speaker’s chair af­ter the stun­ning 2015 res­ig­na­tion of John Boehner, R-Ohio, and a failed bid by Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. At the time, Ryan held his dream job — chair­man of the pow­er­ful, tax-writ­ing Ways and Means Com­mit­tee — but took the job as the last vi­able op­tion to lead a frac­tured House GOP.

While Ryan eased com­fort­ably into the job, he wasn’t the schmoozer Boehner was, a key skill in de­liv­er­ing like­minded but re­luc­tant law­mak­ers.

He lacked the steel and sea­son­ing of Demo­cratic ri­val Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who de­liv­ered Oba­macare in the first place — and that took months, not weeks.

Even be­fore the bill went down, Pelosi was pil­ing on, taunt­ing Trump and, by im­pli­ca­tion, Ryan, for rush­ing the bill to the floor too early.

“You build your con­sen­sus in your cau­cus, and when you’re ready, you set the date to bring it to the floor,” Pelosi said. “Rookie’s er­ror, Don­ald Trump. You may be a great ne­go­tia­tor. Rookie’s er­ror for bring­ing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”

Ryan en­tered the health care de­bate with­out the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing ever man­aged a sit­u­a­tion of such mag­ni­tude.

“We were a 10-year op­po­si­tion party where be­ing against things was easy to do,” a clearly dis­ap­pointed Ryan said Fri­day. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a gov­ern­ing party, where we have to ac­tu­ally get ... peo­ple to agree with each other in how we do things.”

Dur­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ten­ure, Ryan had al­ways been able to lean on Democrats to pass leg­is­la­tion Obama would sign.

On health care, how­ever, Ryan could only count on Repub­li­cans, in­her­it­ing a frac­tious group that was schooled in op­pos­ing Obama, but lack­ing in the re­quired team spirit to be a func­tion­ing, gov­ern­ing party.

It’s a far dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion fac­ing Ryan than he wit­nessed when join­ing the House in 1999.

Then, Speaker Den­nis Hastert, R-Ill., and le­gendary Whip Tom De­Lay, R-Texas, ran the House with a fivevote ma­jor­ity, in­still­ing a team spirit that is wholly lack­ing to­day. Ryan also lacks the tools avail­able to prior lead­ers, like home­town ear­marks.

“It’s some­times eas­ier to do things with a smaller ma­jor­ity, be­cause you all re­al­ize you’ve got to stick to­gether or you won’t get any­thing done,” said Rep. Mike Simp­son, R-Idaho. “When you get a big­ger ma­jor­ity you have fac­tions. And then the chal­lenge is deal­ing with the dif­fer­ent fac­tions.”

In­stead, Ryan strug­gled — and failed — to thread the nee­dle be­tween con­ser­va­tive hard­lin­ers in the House Free­dom Cau­cus and mod­er­ate law­mak­ers wor­ried that the GOP mea­sure would harm their con­stituents — and their po­lit­i­cal prospects in midterm elec­tions that prom­ise to be bruis­ing for Repub­li­cans.

While Trump fo­cused on win­ning over the Free­dom Cau­cus, Ryan failed to keep more prag­matic law­mak­ers like Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, in line. When Young an­nounced his op­po­si­tion, a su­perPAC af­fil­i­ated with Ryan, the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund, an­nounced it would pull its sup­port from Young.

To be sure, sev­eral fac­tors con­spired against Ryan.

Trump some­times sent mixed sig­nals about how solidly he was be­hind the ef­fort. The White House is short-handed and its staff is in­ex­pe­ri­enced in the art of leg­is­lat­ing.

And Ryan’s vote-count­ing team failed to keep law­mak­ers from is­su­ing pub­lic state­ments promis­ing to op­pose the bill.

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