Obama and Ryan: Covert collaborators


President Barack Obama and House Speaker Paul Ryan haven’t had a face-to-face meeting in more than two-and-a-half years. And despite Ryan’s election this week and Obama’s congratulatory call to him in advance of the vote, there still isn’t one scheduled.

But the two already have a good sense of each other — and beside John Boehner, Ryan’s probably the House Republican Obama’s spent the most time with. And if Obama had to pick a House Republican to be speaker, people who know the president say he’d probably have voted for Ryan himself. There isn’t a close runner-up.  

ObamaRyanPOLIlloGetty.jpgLooking ahead to what the dynamic between them will be now, aides to the president and new speaker point to their collaboration on getting trade fast-track through Congress last summer as a model.

People in both offices note that the two leaders helped produce a bill with bipartisan support and tea-party opposition that the president eagerly signed. They’re a lot less eager to talk about what happened behind-the-scenes to get there: significant collaboration between the president’s staff in the West Wing and Ryan’s staff on the Ways and Means Committee, along with several direct phone calls the White House still won’t confirm between Obama and Ryan. Those calls were in part vote counting, in part strategizing about how to avoid looking like they were working together — even though they were.

Facing each other now as Ryan’s setting the tone for his speakership and Obama’s looking to wrap up his presidency is the latest stage in a long relationship between the two self-styled wonks. It began with a lovefest on stage when Obama visited the House GOP retreat before the 2010 midterms. It took a dive after Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 — proof to West Wingers at the time that they’d been silly to think he’d ever sacrifice his brand to work with them. And it’s been on a slow track back since.

The latest reset began with Obama inviting Ryan for lunch at the White House in March 2013, only to be waved off more contact by legislative aides at the time who said bringing Ryan in would just anger congressional leadership from both parties, according to an administration aide. So it wasn’t until the Ryan-Murray budget in 2013, in the wake of the shutdown, that the reconciliation got serious.

“That moment is suddenly where there is a more broad realization at the White House that in addition to there being Paul Ryan the elite darling on the right, that there is a Paul Ryan who while being very conservative, could also negotiate and get things done,” said Gene Sperling, director of Obama’s National Economic Council at the time.

Sure enough, the receptiveness to Ryan’s ascension now isn’t a feeling that the White House is eager to publicize. Aides to the president won’t talk about the rapport between them. They won’t cop to seeing Ryan as serious or capable, at least when they grade him on their curve for House Republicans.

White House aides push back on the idea that Obama sees Ryan as a kindred spirit. It’s more, according to people who’ve spoken to Obama about Ryan, that he’s always seen “potential.” Obama doesn’t see him as an intellectual equal, those people say, but he does see Ryan as “cerebral,” “someone who we could talk with.”

That feeling is shared throughout the building. Instead of just parroting talking points, like the White House saw the almost-speaker Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doing, their sense of Ryan is that he’s the one actually coming up with the ideas. Unlike the tea party, which they think doesn’t believe in any government, they think Ryan has an actual theory of small government. He knows how to maneuver politically and is willing to take risks in a way the White House came to believe former Speaker John Boehner never could or would.

He is the one who wrote the Ryan Budget, but the president and his aides seem to think that in a truth serum moment, Ryan himself would admit that was largely a political document and not something he’d really want to see adopted in full.

What this adds up to isn’t clear. There’s not a long list of issues to use the fast-track model for in the 15 months Obama has left: actually passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and criminal justice reform, probably. Then it’s into basics like reauthorizing the highway bill, ESEA education funding.

Ryan has his own internal political dynamics to contend with. He’s promised the 247-member House Republican Conference a more open and inclusive legislative process. Sure, just like any speaker, he’ll speak with the president when he needs to. But he will not be eager or willing to cut deals with Obama behind closed doors. That simply won’t fly. Immigration reform? Fat chance. Ryan’s already promised House Republicans that he would put off any overhaul until 2017 — which White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday called “certainly disappointing,” particularly since Ryan’s backed comprehensive reform in the past. And as for the tax reform that the president had put forward after last year’s midterms as one of the areas he thought he could work with Republicans on, White House aides no longer see much hope of even lip service to actually making a move.

“There’s a lot of respect in the West Wing for Paul Ryan,” said Miguel Rodriguez, one of Obama’s former legislative directors. “They know he’s smart and savvy. They know he gets the politics.”

But, Rodriguez added, “I suspect the White House also appreciates that Paul Ryan has a long-term vision for his conference that he’s going to stick to.”

Multiple White House aides, current and former, say they can’t remember much by way of direct interaction with Ryan. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough is the exception, bonding with Ryan over their shared Midwestern Catholic roots, ribbing each other over Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalries.

The White House theory on Ryan assumes a dilemma: for the new speaker’s immediate political purposes, he can’t appear to be working with Obama over his House colleagues, but for his longer term aspirations, he can’t afford to continue the pattern of negative stasis that would come from not working with Obama.

So as Obama spends the next 15 months trying to tie up a few loose ends of his own, he’ll also essentially try to soften up the new speaker for the next Democratic president they’re hoping for — starting to put Ryan on a path toward getting immigration reform through at some point, or actually changing how a Republican Congress deals with a Democratic opposition in the White House, if that’s how things end up after next year’s elections.

Ryan’s already earned some disappointed tut-tuts in the West Wing for what they see as his waffling on ultimatums and making an unrealistic promise to return to the Hastert rule — the internal Republican practice of only bringing forward bills that have a support of a majority of House Republicans.

Most of all, as people around the White House point out, offering an advance defense for not getting much done, Ryan’s still got that same coterie of demanding right-wingers to deal with.

And if people in the White House think Ryan doesn’t believe in his own budget, Ryan’s allies would say they are wrong. Ryan isn’t one to take a position to make a point. Notably: He voted for Boehner’s budget Wednesday, even though the Republican right was urging him not to.

The White House long ago wrote off Boehner as unable or unwilling to do anything that would endanger his hold on power, and McCarthy, when he was on track to get the gavel, just looked to them like a less sophisticated, less capable and more combative alternative that would annoy them throughout the president’s final year.

Then there’s Ryan.

“The president has worked with Chairman Ryan on some key issues, like trade and on immigration, but there are a number of issues where we have vastly different approaches, vastly different policy positions,” White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said, after Ryan had secured the votes in the Republican Caucus. “Our concern all along in this process is that Republicans spend a lot of time and energy consolidating their fractious caucus, instead of working to figure out how Congress can run in a more bipartisan way.”

Jake Sherman contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/barack-obama-paul-ryan-relationship-215398#ixzz3q9FRMmkv

4 thoughts on “Obama and Ryan: Covert collaborators

  1. They’re all overt collaborators and even foolish laymen like me enjoy the parade of fools leading us all to ultimate destruction. If ya wanna get rid of big war get rid of big government.

  2. Paul Ryan… the new ole blue eyes…boner 2.0
    If Frank Sinatra was alive…he’d kick Ryan’s @ss.
    If you’ve ever watched that movie brave new world.
    You’ve got your Obama clone in that movie as the decider.
    These people are so out of touch with us.
    I don’t even know if they’re even human anymore.
    Probably grown in a test tube in a CIA lab.

  3. “But the two already have a good sense of each other — and beside John Boehner, Ryan’s probably the House Republican Obama’s spent the most time with. And if Obama had to pick a House Republican to be speaker, people who know the president say he’d probably have voted for Ryan himself. There isn’t a close runner-up.”

    So….because he’s good friends with Barry, then he’s a good candidate for Speaker of the House? WTF??? No one sees a conflict of interest there? No one at all?


    Two puppets serving the same Zionist master, as always.

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