Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the 45-year-old former vice presidential candidate from Wisconsin, became Speaker of the House of Representatives on October 29. Ryan won an impressive 236 of 245 Republican votes. In order to get further insight into the man third in line from the presidency, NACDS.org turned to Steve Pinkos, a longtime associate of Ryan’s, who assists with NACDS’ advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.
In the last several years, he’s been like E.F. Hutton: When Paul Ryan talks, people listen.
Pinkos and Ryan go way back. He is a former classmate of Ryan’s—both are alumni of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio—and were Hill staffers at the same time in the 1990s. Later, the men worked together when Pinkos was the policy director for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-WI), who is currently the House Majority Leader.
Q: What do you think the deciding factor was in Ryan taking the job?
A: Simply the call to serve. His colleagues needed him and the country needed him. There was a major leadership void when Speaker Boehner stepped aside and Kevin McCarthy decided to end his candidacy for Speaker. We also have a presidential election year coming up, which is a time when the nation can focus on the big issues like entitlement spending, how to jumpstart significant economic growth and reform the tax system. I think he views this as an important opportunity for the House to show the country what a Republican Congress would do with a new president.
Q: Ryan was very open about being reluctant to take this position. Were you surprised that he agreed to do it?
A: I would have been surprised if he sought the position right after Speaker Boehner said he was going to retire, but once Kevin McCarthy decided not to pursue it, I wasn’t too surprised because he was called to serve by so many of his colleagues and it’s hard to forgo this enormous opportunity to help make America stronger at home and abroad. He’s third in line to the presidency, but it’s not about the power, it’s about the opportunity to bring the Republican conference together, and also lead on the big ideas that he thinks are key to the country.
Q: What do you think contributed to his reluctance?
A: He recognized all the demands put on the position, so he had to work through that to try to figure out how could he best manage it. I think he received some good counsel from people like Mitt Romney, who has been both a political leader and an executive leader. Once he figured out that he’d have an organizational plan to handle the responsibilities of being in charge of the institution of Congress, as well being the policy leader and chief spokesman for House Republicans, I think he felt comfortable with the decision. He also knew he could work well with the rest of the House leadership team—House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference. He saw that he had a good team in place that complements his abilities and his priorities.
Q: Knowing him as well as you do, what do you think will make him effective in the role?
A: I think he brings credibility to the position because of his knowledge of the issues and skill in communicating—communicating not only with members but, perhaps more importantly, writ large to the country. He will try to facilitate a broader policy discussion that includes different caucuses within the conference. The vast majority of people want a strong leader.
Q: How do you think his leadership will differ from Boehner’s?
A: That’s a tough question. I think he will try in some way to institutionalize a broader segment of the membership to have a say in the big policy decisions, whether it’s how to approach the budget or how to approach taxes or healthcare. He will focus on broader involvement for all in the policy development process and more opportunity for votes on the floor on amendments and people’s priorities. It’s tough to consistently follow these goals, but he is committed to them and we’ll see how it plays out over time.
Q: Are you optimistic about his speakership?
A: I am optimistic. He has the respect of his colleagues. He’s talented. He has the four ‘p’s’ down very well—he’s adept in policy, politics, people, as well as the process. In the last several years, he’s been like E.F. Hutton: When Paul Ryan talks, people listen. The job is going to be hard and there will be a lot of challenges, but he has the respect of the conference and he is a very capable person. He’s proved himself in the crucible of national politics, and I think most people think he acquitted himself well.