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Student Voices

Paul Ryan needs breathing room

There’s a reason Paul Ryan was hesitant to take the job. In today’s Washington, serving as Speaker of the House has lost quite a bit of its luster. Right now, serving in America’s third highest-ranking public office more closely resembles a dignified walking of the plank than an opportunity to advance the public mission.

Ryan’s reservations were well-noted: He already had his dream job as chair of the Ways and Mean Committee and was (and continues to be) understandably reluctant to lose out on more time with his wife and young children. However, what loomed most menacingly over his decision to assume Congress’s highest office was the seeming impossibility that the Republican caucus would unite in support of his candidacy.

It was, and remains, a reasonable concern. The general steadfastness of both the right and left wings has allowed Congressional gridlock to persist. Yet, it was the overt obstructionism of the House’s Freedom Caucus that has turned gridlock into deadlock, and ultimately left former Speaker John Boehner for dead. An increasingly radical right flank proved to be no ally to Speaker Boehner, and you can’t blame Speaker Ryan for having been wary of the same fate.

What’s so disappointing — and what seems to validate Ryan’s fears — is that Republican legislators have almost immediately put Ryan in the same position as his predecessor.

Take for example Mike Huckabee, a conservative politician prominent enough to remain in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination. In commenting on the increasingly divisive Syrian refugee crisis, Huckabee stated that, “If Ryan will not lead and reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East… then Speaker Ryan needs to step down today and let someone else lead.” Coming from your own party, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for discussion.

This ultimatum that Ryan must concede to the radical right’s rejection of Syrian refugees doesn’t just shut down the debate — it shuts down the speaker. Huckabee’s vocal representation of evangelical conservatives gives the leader of his own party little room to try and diplomatically navigate his first major political dilemma. Put another way, what chance does Ryan have to restore understanding and compromise when presidential candidates from his side of the aisle demand his surrender two weeks into the job?

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Ryan’s policies, it’s disappointing to see the fears he held with his own party realized so quickly. Ryan may be a staunch conservative, but he also seems to know that the result you want isn’t always the result you get. Huckabee may have shouted his corner’s way on to center stage, but he’s also snatched that airspace from the man and institution that need it most right now.

If Boehner taught us anything, it’s that even the speaker needs room to breathe.


Caleb Ellis, from St. Louis, is a senior studying English and public policy at Duke.