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Paul Ryan Brushes Off Criticism He Doesn’t Stand up to Trump: I Catch Flak ‘No Matter What I Do’

Outgoing House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke at the National Press Club today on the state of GOP policy and politics under President Donald Trump as he sees it, and afterward took questions from reporters in attendance. He was asked twice about rhetoric, “tribalism,” and Trump-style politics, and both answers were a bit outside what the President seems to prefer to hear from Republicans.

On several issues, like tax cuts and the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ryan’s positions were in line with the Republican mainstream, which Trump, too, has slowly embraced over time. But on the issue of how business is conducted in D.C. he diverged from the “liberal tears” style prevalent in the party.

The first question was from a former House staffer, who asked about rhetoric from the White House in particular.

“You have been in a very big box with the politics of condemnation coming from the White House, and you have spoken against it periodically,” he said. “Do you think that’s here to stay, is at a model that is going to stay with our national politics? What can we do about it to make it not happen?”

Ryan called it a “very good question” and said it’s something he wants to spend a lot of time thinking about even more after leaving office, where he is currently time-constrained from considering “bigger things.” But he said it concerns him.

“I worry about this a lot,” he said. “I mean just the last two weeks, the politics– the incentive in politics is invective, it’s outrage, it’s hysteria. And the 21st century, technology system that we are experiencing, with social media, cable news, ratings-chasing, it fuels tribalism and identity politics.”

He said the divisiveness comes from both sides. “As conservatives, we abhorred it, we abhor and we abhorred identity politics. We used to think it was an Alinsky thing for the left. Now the right practices it. So it’s being practiced on both sides. And what that is doing is dividing our country more than we’ve seen in a long time.”

Ryan said that while there have been big divisions in politics all along, those divisions seep deeper into our culture because of technology and “because of, unfortunately, the proven success of tribalism and identity politics.”

He said Americans should have a “vigorous debate” on ideas and not in attacking people, presumably referring to the “politics of condemnation coming from the White House” which he was asked about.

In the second clip, he is asked again about the topic.

He framed it as following up on the previous question (above). Here is the second clip:

“I want to follow on Bob’s question about the division that’s seeping into our society,” asked the member of the press club. “You’re the head of one branch, Trump is the head of a second branch. And there has been some criticism, you did not stand up forcefully enough to some of Trumps rhetoric, and maybe even a few of his policies. So how do you respond to that?”

“I get criticized no matter what I do, so I’m used to that. As the Speaker of the House you just get criticized every way to Sunday,” he said. “So, I would say, look at our results.” He was referring back to earlier in his remarks citing bipartisan legislation in the last few years. He addressed it again.

“Look, our parties are very different, and I think the left is moving far left, I think they’ve just jumped the shark, frankly, on ideology, and I think they moved way out of the mainstream, but having said all that, about 80% of what we do is bipartisan,” he said. “It doesn’t get covered, no offense, but it doesn’t get covered.

“Most of what we actually do is bipartisan,” he said. “There are those flareups on the big issues that we just don’t agree on, like healthcare or taxes or what happened in the Senate with the Supreme Court. But underneath those polarizing moments is a lot of bipartisan production.”

He said again that there is a lot of divisiveness, that it’s “disheartening”, and that it’s “coming from both sides.” His prescription was, to an extent, that creating policy which makes people healthier and happier and have better jobs will “reduce the oxygen” for divisive politics.

He also said it’s “far more productive” to have good relationships and private conversations than to be a partisan on TV.

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