Paul Ryan

Last updated on 28 May 2017

Paul Davis Ryan Jr. (/ˈraɪən/; born January 29, 1970) is an American politician who is the 54th and current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Ryan is a member of the Republican Party who has served as the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district since 1999. Ryan previously served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, from January 3 to October 29, 2015, and, before that, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2011 to 2015. He was the Republican Party nominee for Vice President of the United States, running alongside former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, in the 2012 election. Ryan, together with Democratic Senator Patty Murray, negotiated the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

On October 29, 2015, Ryan was elected to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives following Boehner's retirement, becoming the first person from Wisconsin to hold this position. He named lobbyist John David Hoppe as his Chief of Staff.

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Paul Ryan's official Speaker photo. In the background is the American Flag.
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Paul Ryan's signature
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Paul Ryan official portrait.jpg
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Paul Ryan's signature

Early life and education

Paul Davis Ryan, Jr. was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, the youngest of four children of Elizabeth A. "Betty" (née Hutter), who later became an interior designer, and Paul Davis Ryan, a lawyer. He is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite. His father was of Irish ancestry and his mother of German and English ancestry. One of Ryan's paternal ancestors settled in Wisconsin prior to the Civil War. His great-grandfather, Patrick William Ryan (1858–1917), founded an earthmoving company in 1884, which later became P. W. Ryan and Sons and is now known as Ryan Incorporated Central. Ryan's grandfather, Stanley M. Ryan (1898–1957), was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Ryan attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Janesville, where he played on the seventh-grade basketball team, then attended Joseph A. Craig High School, where he was elected president of his junior class, and thus became prom king. As class president Ryan was a representative of the student body on the school board. Following his second year, Ryan took a job working the grill at McDonald's. He was on his high school's ski, track, and varsity soccer teams and played basketball in a Catholic recreational league. He participated in several academic and social clubs including the Model United Nations. Ryan and his family often went on hiking and skiing trips to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

When he was 16, Ryan found his 55-year-old father lying dead in bed of a heart attack. Following the death of his father, Ryan's grandmother moved in with the family, and because she had Alzheimer's, Ryan helped care for her while his mother commuted to college in Madison, Wisconsin. From the time of his father's death until his 18th birthday, Ryan received Social Security survivors benefits, which were saved for his college education. His mother remarried, to Bruce Douglas.

Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he became interested in the writings of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. He often visited the office of libertarian professor Richard Hart to discuss the theories of these economists and of Ayn Rand. Hart introduced Ryan to National Review, and with Hart's recommendation Ryan began an internship in the D.C. office of Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten where he worked with Kasten's foreign affairs adviser.

He attended the Washington Semester program at American University. Ryan worked summers as a salesman for Oscar Mayer and once got to drive the Wienermobile. Ryan was a member of the College Republicans, and volunteered for the congressional campaign of John Boehner. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta social fraternity.

Early career

Betty Ryan reportedly urged her son to accept a congressional position as a legislative aide in Senator Kasten's office, which he did after graduating in 1992. In his early years working on Capitol Hill, Ryan supplemented his income by working as a waiter, as a fitness trainer, and at other jobs.

A few months after Kasten lost to Democrat Russ Feingold in the November 1992 election, Ryan became a speechwriter for Empower America (now FreedomWorks), a conservative advocacy group founded by Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and William Bennett. Ryan later worked as a speechwriter for Kemp, the Republican vice presidential candidate in the 1996 United States presidential election. Kemp became Ryan's mentor, and Ryan has said he had a "huge influence". In 1995, Ryan became the legislative director for then-U.S. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. In 1997 he returned to Wisconsin, where he worked for a year as a marketing consultant for the construction company Ryan Incorporated Central, owned by his relatives.

U.S. House of Representatives

Elections

Ryan was first elected to the House in 1998, winning the 1st District seat of Republican Mark Neumann, a two-term incumbent who had vacated his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. Ryan won the Republican primary over 29-year-old pianist Michael J. Logan of Twin Lakes, and the general election against Democrat Lydia Spottswood. This made him the second-youngest member of the House.

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Paul Ryan with Chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin Reince Priebus and his wife in 2008

Reelected eight times, Ryan has never received less than 55 percent of the vote. He defeated Democratic challenger Jeffrey C. Thomas in the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections. In the 2008 election, Ryan defeated Democrat Marge Krupp.

In the 2010 general election, he defeated Democrat John Heckenlively and Libertarian Joseph Kexel. In 2012, under Wisconsin election law, Ryan was allowed to run concurrently for vice president and for Congress and was not allowed to remove his name from the Congressional ballot after being nominated for the vice presidency. He faced Democratic nominee Rob Zerban. As of July 25, 2012, Ryan had over $5.4 million in his congressional campaign account, more than any other House member. He was reelected with 55 percent of his district's vote and 44 percent of the vote in his hometown, Janesville.

Zerban again challenged Ryan in the 2014 House election. Ryan won with 63 percent of his district's vote.

In the 2016 Republican primary election, Ryan faced businessman Paul Nehlen, who had been endorsed by Sarah Palin. Because of Nehlen's support for Trump, Trump publicly thanked him on Twitter and later told The Washington Post that Nehlen was "running a very good campaign", even though he did not endorse him. On August 5, 2016, Trump endorsed Ryan's re-election after pressure from fellow Republican leaders. On the August 9, 2016 primary election, Ryan overwhelmingly defeated Nehlen, taking over 84 percent of the vote. In the November general election, Ryan faced Democrat Ryan Solen and won with 65 percent of his district's vote.

Tenure

Ryan became the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee in 2007, then chairman in 2011 after Republicans took control of the House. That same year he was selected to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union address.

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Official U.S. Congress portrait of Ryan in 2013

During his 13 years in the House, Ryan was the primary sponsor of more than 70 bills or amendments, of which only two were enacted into law. One, passed in July 2000, renamed a post office in Ryan's district; the other, passed in December 2008, lowered the excise tax on arrow shafts. Ryan has also co-sponsored 975 bills, of which 176 have passed. 22 percent of these bills were originally sponsored by a Democrat.

Ryan was a "reliable supporter of the [George W. Bush] administration's foreign policy priorities" who voted for the 2002 Iraq Resolution, authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In 2010, Ryan was a member of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson Commission), which was tasked with developing a plan to reduce the federal deficit. He voted against the final report of the commission. In 2012, Ryan accused the nation's top military leaders of using "smoke and mirrors" to remain under budget limits passed by Congress. Ryan later said that he misspoke on the issue and called General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to apologize for his comments.

As of mid-2012, Ryan had been on seven trips abroad as part of a congressional delegation.

Committee assignments

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ryan holds no chairmanship of any committee nor is he a member of any committee or subcommittee. Prior to his election, Ryan held the following assignments:

Caucus memberships

Constituent services

In fiscal year 2008, Ryan garnered $5.4 million in congressional earmarks for his constituency, including $3.28 million for bus service in Wisconsin, $1.38 million for the Ice Age Trail, and $735,000 for the Janesville transit system. In 2009, he successfully advocated with the Department of Energy for stimulus funds for energy initiatives in his district.

Other home district projects he has supported include a runway extension at the Rock County Airport, an environmental study of the Kenosha Harbor, firefighting equipment for Janesville, road projects in Wisconsin, and commuter rail and streetcar projects in Kenosha. In 2008, Ryan pledged to stop seeking earmarks. Prior to that he had sought earmarks less often than other representatives. Taxpayers for Common Sense records show no earmarks supported by Ryan for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. In 2012, Ryan supported a request for $3.8 million from the Department of Transportation for a new transit center in Janesville, which city officials received in July.

Ryan was an active member of a task force established by Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle that tried unsuccessfully to persuade GM to keep its assembly plant in Janesville open. He made personal contact with GM executives to try to convince them to save or retool the plant, offering GM hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded incentives.

Following the closing of factories in Janesville and Kenosha, constituents expressed dissatisfaction with Ryan's voting history. During the 2011 Congressional summer break, Ryan held town hall meetings by telephone with constituents. The only public meetings Ryan attended in his district required an admission fee of at least $15.

In August 2011, constituents in Kenosha and Racine protested when Ryan would not meet with them about economic and employment issues, after weeks of emailed requests from them. His Kenosha office locked its doors and filed a complaint with the police, who told the protesters that they were not allowed in Ryan's office. Ryan maintains a mobile office to serve constituents in outlying areas.

2012 vice presidential campaign

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Mitt Romney with Paul Ryan after introducing him as his running mate, for the 2012 presidential election, in Norfolk, Virginia, on August 11, 2012

Dan Balz of The Washington Post wrote that Ryan was promoted as a candidate for Vice President "by major elements of the conservative opinion makers, including The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard and the editor of National Review".

On August 11, 2012, the Romney campaign officially announced Ryan as its choice for Vice President through its "Mitt's VP" mobile app as well as by the social networking service Twitter, about 90 minutes before Romney's in-person introduction. Before the official announcement in Norfolk, Virginia, it was reported that Romney made his decision, and offered the position to Ryan on August 1, 2012, the day after returning from a foreign policy trip through the United Kingdom, Poland and Israel.

On August 11, 2012, Ryan formally accepted Romney's invitation to join his campaign as his running mate, in front of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. Ryan is the first individual from Wisconsin as well as the first member of Generation X to run on a major party's national ticket.

Also in August 2012, the Associated Press published a story saying that while the Tea Party movement had wanted a nominee other than Romney, it had gotten "one of its ideological heroes" in the Vice Presidential slot. According to the article, Ryan supports the Tea Party's belief in "individual rights, distrust of big government and an allegorical embrace of the Founding Fathers".

According to a statistical-historical analysis conducted by Nate Silver, "Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900" and "is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee [for vice president who previously served in the Congress] was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center" of any vice presidential candidate chosen from Congress since the turn of the 20th century.

Political scientist Eric Schickler commented that while Ryan "may well be the most conservative vice presidential nominee in decades," the NOMINATE methodology "is not suited to making claims about the relative liberalism or conservatism of politicians" over a long time span. A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 39% thought Ryan was an "excellent" or "pretty good" vice presidential choice, compared to 42% who felt he was a "fair" or "poor" choice.

Ryan formally accepted his nomination at the 2012 Republican National Convention on August 29, 2012. In his acceptance speech, he promoted Mitt Romney as the presidential candidate, supported repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), said that he and Romney had a plan to generate 12 million new jobs over the ensuing four years, and promoted founding principles as a solution: "We will not duck the tough issues—we will lead. We will not spend four years blaming others—we will take responsibility. We will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles."

The speech was well received by the convention audience and praised for being well-delivered. Some fact-checkers purported that there were important factual omissions and that he presented details out of context. Conservative media (including Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, the Investor's Business Daily, and Fox News) disputed some of the fact-checkers' findings. Politifact.com rated 33 of Ryan's statements which it suspected of being false or misleading as True: 10.5%, Mostly True: 18%, Half True: 21%, Mostly False: 36%, False: 9%, and Pants on Fire: 6%. On October 11, 2012, Ryan debated his Democratic counterpart, incumbent Vice President Joe Biden, in the only vice presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle.

Romney and Ryan lost the 2012 presidential election, but Ryan retained his seat in the House of Representatives. Ryan attended the second inauguration of Barack Obama out of what he said was "obligation", where he was booed by a group led by a lawyer with the Voting Section of the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

Speaker of the House

Speaker Ryan (left) shakes hands as he ascends to office following the retirement of Speaker John Boehner (right).
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The Dalai Lama welcomed by Ryan and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a bipartisan lunch in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol in June 2016
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King Salman of Saudi Arabia speaks with Ryan in April 2016

On October 8, 2015 a push by congressional Republicans to recruit Ryan to run to succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the House was initiated. Boehner had recently announced his resignation and stated his support for Kevin McCarthy to be his replacement, which received wide support among Republicans, including Ryan, who was set to officially nominate him.

McCarthy withdrew his name from consideration on October 8 when it was apparent that the Freedom Caucus, a caucus of staunchly conservative House Republicans, would not support him. This led many Republicans to turn to Ryan as a compromise candidate. The push included a plea from Boehner, who reportedly told Ryan that he was the only person who could unite the House GOP at a time of turmoil. Ryan released a statement that said, "While I am grateful for the encouragement I've received, I will not be a candidate." But on October 9, close aides of Ryan confirmed that Ryan had reconsidered, and was considering the possibility of a run.

Ryan confirmed on October 22 that he would seek the speakership after receiving the endorsements of two factions of House Republicans, including the conservative Freedom Caucus. Ryan, upon confirming his bid for the speakership, stated, "I never thought I'd be speaker. But I pledged to you that if I could be a unifying figure, then I would serve -- I would go all in. After talking with so many of you, and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as one, united team. And I am ready and eager to be our speaker." On October 29, Ryan was elected Speaker with 236 votes. He is the youngest Speaker since James G. Blaine in 1875.

As Speaker, Ryan is the leader of the House Republicans. However, by tradition, he rarely takes part in debate or votes from the floor, though he has the right to do so. He is also not a member of any standing committees.

2016 presidential election

After Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election on May 4, 2016, Ryan was hesitant to endorse him, stating on May 5 that he was "not ready". Ryan and Trump met in private on May 12, releasing a joint statement afterward, acknowledging their differences but stating "we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground." On June 2, Ryan announced his support for Trump in an op-ed in The Janesville Gazette.

The following day, June 3, amid Trump's criticism of Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, Ryan said Trump's critique "just was out of left field for my mind," and voiced disagreement with him. On June 7, Ryan disavowed Trump's comments about Curiel because he believed they were "the textbook definition of a racist comment". Nevertheless, Ryan continued to endorse Trump, believing that more Republican policies will be enacted under Donald Trump than presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. On June 15, after Kevin McCarthy stated during a conversation among Republicans, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.", Ryan said, "No leaks. This is how we know we're a real family here."

On July 5, after FBI Director James Comey advocated against pressing charges against Clinton for her email scandal, Ryan said Comey's decision "defies explanation" and stated that "[d]eclining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent."

Trump, after becoming the Republican presidential nominee, initially refused to endorse Ryan in his primary race for his congressional seat and "signaled support for Mr. Ryan's little-known primary opponent, Paul Nehlen" on August 1, 2016. Nehlan had characterized Ryan's congressional service as filled with "cronyism and corruption." Trump did endorse Ryan later that week. Ryan easily won the Republican nomination in the primary election.

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Ryan shaking hands with President Trump prior to his address to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017.

In October 2016, following the Donald Trump Access Hollywood controversy, Ryan disinvited Trump from a scheduled campaign rally, and announced that he would no longer defend or support Trump's presidential campaign but would focus instead on Congressional races. He also freed down-ticket congress members to use their own judgment about Trump, saying "you all need to do what's best for you and your district." Trump then went on to attack Ryan, accusing him and other "disloyal" Republicans of deliberately undermining his candidacy as part of "a whole sinister deal".

115th Congress

On February 7, 2017, Ryan told reporters a replacement for the Affordable Care Act would be introduced "this year" amid speculation President Trump would not act toward doing so until the following year. On March 9, Ryan gave a 30 minute lecture explaining the American Health Care Act. On March 30, Ryan said that he did not intend to work with Democrats on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, reasoning their involvement would lead to "government running health care." On April 4, Ryan confirmed renewed discussions of an Affordable Care Act replacement, but warned it was in the "conceptual" stages of its development, with an agreement not having been reached. Two days later, Ryan said "real progress" had been made by Republicans, who he stated had united behind "a new amendment" that included a program on risk-sharing.

On May 3, Ryan said the Republicans were nearing enough votes to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act during an interview with Hugh Hewitt. The following day, the House narrowly voted for legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On May 9, Ryan said that "a month or two" would pass ahead of the Senate passing its own Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement legislation. During a news conference on May 18, Ryan said Congress' goal was "calendared 2017 for tax reform" and reported progress was being made in doing so.

Political positions

At a 2005 Washington, D.C. gathering celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth, Ryan credited Rand as inspiring him to get involved in public service. In a speech that same year at the Atlas Society, he said he grew up reading Rand, and that her books taught him about his value system and beliefs. Ryan required staffers and interns in his congressional office to read Rand and gave copies of her novel Atlas Shrugged as gifts to his staff for Christmas. In his Atlas Society speech, he also described Social Security as a "socialist-based system".

In 2009, Ryan said, "What's unique about what's happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it's as if we're living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault."

In April 2012, after receiving criticism from Georgetown University faculty members on his budget plan, Ryan rejected Rand's philosophy as an atheistic one, saying it "reduces human interactions down to mere contracts". He also called the reports of his adherence to Rand's views an "urban legend" and stated that he was deeply influenced by his Roman Catholic faith and by Thomas Aquinas. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, maintains that Ryan is not a Rand disciple, and that some of his proposals do not follow Rand's philosophy of limited government; Brook refers to Ryan as a "fiscal moderate".

Personal life

Ryan with his wife and family on the Speaker's balcony at the U.S. Capitol, following his election in October 2015.

Ryan married Janna Little, a tax attorney, in 2000. Little, a native of Oklahoma, is a graduate of Wellesley College, and George Washington University Law School. Her cousin is former Democratic Representative Dan Boren, also of Oklahoma. The Ryans live in the Courthouse Hill Historic District of Janesville, Wisconsin. They have three children: Liza, Charles, and Sam. A Catholic, Ryan is a member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Janesville.

Due to a family history of fatal heart attacks before age 60, Ryan pursues an intense cross-training fitness program called P90X. Ryan has always been a fitness enthusiast and was a personal trainer when he came out of college. About P90X, he said, "It works because its called muscle confusion. It hits your body in many different ways. Pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, lots of cardio, karate, jump training. It has results, it works. It's a good workout."

In a 2010 Politico interview he said that he weighed 163 pounds and maintained his body fat percentage between 6 to 8%. Tony Horton, creator of P90X, who has personally trained Ryan many times, reiterated the claim saying, "He is very, very, very lean. I know what 6 to 8 percent body fat looks like, and there's no fat anywhere on the man. I'm around 9 percent and he's much leaner than I am. He’s easily 6 to 8 percent body fat. You just have to eat right and exercise every day, and that’s what he does."

In a radio interview Ryan claimed that he had once run a marathon in under three hours; he later stated that he forgot his actual time and was just trying to state what he thought was a normal time. His one official marathon time is recorded as slightly over four hours.

Awards and honors

Electoral history

Year Office District Democratic Republican Other
1998 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Lydia Spottswood 43% Paul Ryan 57%
2000 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Jeffrey Thomas 33% Paul Ryan 67%
2002 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Jeffrey Thomas 31% Paul Ryan 67% George Meyers (L) 2%
2004 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Jeffrey Thomas 33% Paul Ryan 65%
2006 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Jeffrey Thomas 37% Paul Ryan 63%
2008 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Marge Krupp 35% Paul Ryan 64% Joseph Kexel (L) 1%
2010 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District John Heckenlively 30% Paul Ryan 68% Joseph Kexel (L) 2%
2012 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Rob Zerban 43% Paul Ryan 55% Keith Deschler (L) 2%
2012 Vice President of the United States United States of America Joe Biden 51% Paul Ryan 47% James P. Gray (L) 1%
2014 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Rob Zerban 37% Paul Ryan 63%
2015 Speaker U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi 42% Paul Ryan 54% Daniel Webster (R) 2%
2016 U.S. House of Representatives Wisconsin 1st District Ryan Solen 30% Paul Ryan 65% Spencer Zimmerman (I) 3%

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