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John Nichols on Paul Ryan: The GOP’s Best Actor Since Ronald Reagan

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Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan is set to become House speaker after winning his party’s backing. Ryan replaces John Boehner, who announced his resignation last month after a lengthy dispute with far-right members of his own party. The tea party “Freedom Caucus” had threatened to hold a no-confidence vote amid disagreements with Boehner over negotiating with Democrats and how to use the Republicans’ House majority. Boehner was pressured to take a more confrontational approach with the White House and congressional Democrats over issues including government spending, immigration reform, Obamacare and abortion. Ryan is known for crafting sweeping budget proposals that target public spending, cut taxes for the wealthy and impose deep budget cuts. We speak to journalists David Cay Johnston and John Nichols.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to something else that’s developing, and then we’ll come back to this discussion, but it’s all within the Republican Party, and that is Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is about to be named the House speaker, and this is after a tremendous amount of controversy. He’s set to become the House speaker after winning his party’s backing. The Republican caucus voted to nominate Ryan Wednesday with a vote of 200 to 43. Ryan replaces John Boehner, who announced his resignation last month after a lengthy dispute with far-right members of his own party. The tea party “Freedom Caucus” had threatened to hold a no-confidence vote amidst disagreements with Boehner over negotiating with Democrats and how to use the Republicans’ House majority. Boehner was pressured to take a more confrontational approach with the White House and congressional Democrats over issues including government spending, immigration reform, Obamacare and abortion. Speaking after Wednesday’s vote, Wisconsin Congressmember Ryan vowed to turn a new page.

REP. PAUL RYAN: This begins a new day in the House of Representatives. John Boehner served with humility and distinction, and we owe him a debt of gratitude. But tomorrow, we are turning the page. We are not going to have a House that looked like it looked the last few years. We are going to move forward. We are going to unify. Our party has lost its vision, and we’re going to replace it with a vision. We believe that the country is on the wrong track. We think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and we have an obligation, here in the people’s House, to do the people’s business, to give this country a better way forward, to give this country an alternative. We are going to respect the people by representing the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite promising a new chapter, Ryan stands to benefit from Boehner’s final bipartisan compromise. On Wednesday, the House approved a bipartisan budget deal that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling. If given final approval, the measure would avoid a federal default and reduce the threat of a government shutdown by the end of the year. A majority of Republicans opposed it, but Boehner gathered the votes of 79 Republicans to help Democrats push it through. After initially opposing the budget agreement, Ryan was among the minority in his party to vote in favor. By avoiding a default, its passage likely spares Ryan a major crisis in his first weeks on the job.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ryan’s ascent to the speakership caps a process that began with him saying he didn’t want the post. But he came under intense pressure from within the party after the initial front-runner, Kevin McCarthy, appeared to confirm Republicans pushed a Benghazi investigation to harm the political chances of Hillary Clinton. Ryan agreed to run this month after outlining a series of demands, including the support of all Republican factions and assurances he won’t lose time with his family. Critics have noted Ryan’s record of opposing policies that help low-income parents spend more time with their children, including paid parental leave.

In his stints as chair of the Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee, Ryan has been known for crafting sweeping budget proposals that target public spending, cut taxes for the wealthy and impose deep budget cuts. He has been on the forefront of efforts to dismantle Social Security by putting seniors’ savings into risky Wall Street investments. Over the years, Ryan has not only pushed for privatizing Social Security, but also dismantling Medicare and slashing funding for Medicaid. He was the vice-presidential nominee on Mitt Romney’s failed presidential ticket in 2012.

So, David Cay Johnston, could you comment on this, Paul Ryan being nominated and becoming the House speaker?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, if he can bring together the House, which I find beyond belief it could happen, given the roughly 40 members on the Republican side who are—they’re a form of anarchists, basically. They don’t want to have a running government. But if he can bring them together, his political stock in the future is going to rise tremendously. He had the best job in Congress, frankly: He was head of the Ways and Means Committee and was setting out to put in place his budget—his tax ideas, which are essentially based on what I call one-sided accounting. You know, we count the reduction of money, we magically make all the problems that causes to disappear. So I think this will be a great test to see if he can actually pull together the internal contradictions going on in the Republican Party between the ideologues and the practical people who are the party of business.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a lot of bashing of the deal last night in the debate. John Nichols, you’re from Wisconsin, so is Paul Ryan. Talk more about him.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, Paul Ryan is the best actor to rise within the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan. And he is a performer. People should understand that. The start of the week, he criticized the budget deal—in fact, said it stinks. And then the next day, he was voting for it. Paul Ryan is a masterful performer. He can tell conservatives he is a conservative—and he is a very passionate social conservative. That’s important to understand. He can tell moderates that he’s able to work with people. He can charm the media with very congenial appearances.

But the thing to understand about Paul Ryan that is above all of these other discussions is that there really are differences in the Republican Party on questions of crony capitalism, on questions of how Congress ought to relate to multinational corporations, how it ought to act on trade deals, how it ought to respond to Wall Street. The bottom line with Paul Ryan, who is a career politician—he’s been on Capitol Hill as an aid and then a member of Congress for a quarter-century; looks like a young guy, but he’s been there since George H.W. Bush’s presidency. The bottom line on Paul Ryan is, no matter what the issue, he will ultimately end up carrying the water for Wall Street and for multinational corporations. That is his great passion. It rises above all other issues.

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