A transcript of an interview Wednesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan by The Associated Press.
AP: Hi, I’m Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press. And welcome to our kickoff of our new Newsmakers series. I’m happy to be here today with our first guest, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Thanks for being here.
Ryan: Thanks for having me.
AP: This should be fun.
Ryan: Appreciate it.
AP: I’m also joined by Erica Werner, AP’s chief congressional correspondent, and a great crowd of AP journalists. But we also want to hear from you. So please make sure to submit your questions for the speaker through with the comments section in Facebook live.
So we’ve got a lot of ground to cover here today. The fall legislative landscape was already going to be pretty busy when you guys came back from recess, but it’s changed a bit, just in this one week that you’ve been back. I know Chairman Brady in your caucus meeting earlier started outlining the timeframe on tax reform. You’ve talked about the end of the year as a deadline there. When you talk about end of the year, do you mean end of the year for both the House and the Senate to pass legislation or for this to go into law?
Ryan: Our plan is to get this done by the end of the year — for law — so that we start 2018 with a new tax system. We really believe that we can hit a 3 percent sustainable growing economy — at 3 percent plus — if we get tax reform with tax cuts for 2018. That’s why we’re focused on getting it done this year. So what Chairman Brady laid out for members this morning is that there have been talks for months between the tax writing committees — that’s the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, leadership and the White House — to get on the same page on a framework, a template of what tax reform looks like, so that we start off on the same page — the House, the Senate and the White House. That template Chairman Brady laid out will be put out in the week of Sept. 25. Then we’re going to be working to get feedback on the details within those from members, and our tax writing committee is going to start finishing the touches on getting legislation drafted. While we also work on our budget resolution, which was what we need in order to pass tax reform for procedural reasons. The whole point here is an aggressive timeline to make sure that we get tax reform done this year.
AP: This idea of getting everyone on the same page now, is that a lesson learned from health care?
Ryan: It is a lesson learned from health care. Exactly right. We want to make sure what happened in health care, which was frustrating to us in the House, is we moved our bill with the White House and then the Senate took months to work on another version and they never actually ended up getting it passed. And so we don’t want to repeat that again. That being taking months and months and months to get to consensus and getting something passed. That’s why we worked so hard at the front end of this process to get people basically on the same page so that when we launch tax reform we’re all literally working off of the same page.
AP: And when you look toward the end of the year and you look toward passage, do you realistically think this is going to be the kind of big tax reform package that you’ve been talking about for a while?
AP: Because when I talked to a lot of Republicans they think inevitably you end up with just a narrower tax cut.
Ryan: First, full disclosure, I wanted to have a destination-based cash flow tax. I, when I was chairman of Ways and Means, long believed it’s smarter to have a consumption tax instead of an income tax for businesses. But we recognized this summer that the political consensus just isn’t there for that. So we, meaning the House, we decided to put that aside and focus on a consensus tax reform document which is comprehensive. Look, the problem is we have a 1986 tax system in the 21st century and the rest of the world has already overhauled their tax systems many times since. And we’re now on the receiving end in the global economy with the worst tax system in the industrialized world. So it’s not just narrow cuts in taxes that will do the job. You can’t just do what Bush did in 2001 and 2003. You have to overhaul the system itself to put American businesses and the American economy in a much more competitive situation in the global economy.
AP: It sounds like you are saying that if you don’t get a broad package, if you do end up with something that’s narrower, then that won’t be a success for you this year.
Ryan: It won’t get us the kind of growth we think we can get. Look our economy has so much untapped potential. And one of the reasons, I’d say the biggest reasons why we have untapped potential, is because we’re weighing down our economy with a terrible tax system. It’s a terrible tax system that was written in ’86. All the rest of the world … look, let me just say the headline rates themselves. We tax our corporations at 35 percent. Successful small businesses are taxed as high as 44.6 percent. The average tax rate in the industrialized world of businesses is 22 and a half percent. And if companies are successful making money overseas they can’t bring those profits back because of our tax system. No other country does that. And so we are really hurting ourselves and it’s one of the reasons why we have massive inversions: U.S. companies becoming foreign companies or foreign companies having so much clout to buy U.S. companies. So we’re losing our seed corn, we’re losing our capital, we’re pushing businesses overseas, and narrow tax cuts won’t fix that. Structural reforms to our tax system to put America from the back of the pack to the front of the pack with a more competitive tax system is the only way to fix that, and if we do fix that, I’m really confident we can get our economy growing at 3 plus percent
AP: Erica is going to dive into some of the specifics of these with you, but let me just ask you quickly about the process. The president is talking a lot about bipartisanship right now. He’s bringing some Democrats over to the White House. You’ve talked about being happy to have Democrats come along. But the process, right now, is really just with Republicans when you actually talk through what you want this package to look like. Can you credibly talk about bipartisanship if it’s only Republicans at the table?
Ryan: Sure. The last thing we’re going to do, though, is give people the ability to filibuster things that we don’t have to give the ability to filibuster.
AP: But can it be bipartisanship if this process that you are going through right now, where you’re actually laying out your principles, is only involving Republicans?
Ryan: The Republican majority has an obligation and an opportunity to take legislation all the way to the president’s desk. And if we have a process that allows us to avoid filibusters, shame on us for not using that process. We’re going to use that process. But I’ve had so many conversations with Democrats just like the president is now having, where Democrats, moderate Democrats, agree with us. This tax system is crazy. We’re taxing American businesses at much higher rates. We need to be able to repatriate our profits. I chaired the Ways and Means Committee and I know that there are Democrats who, in many ways, agree with us on these things. But the last thing we’re going to do is not use a tool that helps us avoid a filibuster.
AP: You think you can get Democratic votes in the House?
Ryan: I bet we will, actually. Based on my conversations with some Democrats, there aren’t a lot of centrists left, but those that are left, I think they agree with us that it’s high time we reform our tax system.
AP: So to get in to some of the details of what you’re planning, will you insist that your plan is “revenue neutral,” that it will not add to the deficit?
Ryan: Well, I’m not going to get into baselines and those issues simply because our tax writers are going to be putting the paper up pretty soon. We have details forthcoming and we’ll see what those details are when we release the template, the week of the 25th and on.
AP: So you are not prepared to say that you are insisting on revenue neutral tax reform that does not add to the deficit?
Ryan: We want pro-growth tax reform that will get the economy growing. That will get people back to work. That will get middle-income taxpayers tax cut and that will put American businesses in a better competitive playing field so that we keep American businesses in America. That is more important than anything else because if we have tax reform that doesn’t actually fix our problems, then we’ll lose more and more businesses and the deficit will go even higher. So it’s really important that we fix the mass of errors we have in our tax system. That’s more important than anything else. And so what you’re going to see is us pushing forward on a tax reform plan that is pro-growth, pro-jobs and puts America in a much more competitive position. And those other details are details that are going to be worked out by our tax writing committees.
AP: And an issue that Democrats are seizing on is they call this trickle-down economics, is that you guys want to give a tax cut to the rich. So will you in fact insist on lowering the end of the top individual rate, why is that so important and why will you not compromise on that?
Ryan: So you’ll see, what you’ll see very soon, is the outlines of a tax agreement and then you’ll see soon after that the actual tax bill. So I’m not going to get ahead of our tax writers who are preparing those documents.
AP: When I talk to campaign strategists who are working on 2018 races, they paint a pretty grim picture for Republicans, if you can’t get taxes done this fall. One of them I talked to this week said it will be hell for Republicans if there’s no tax plan to run on.
Ryan: I agree. I think … look, we ran on doing tax reform. It was part of, it was one of the crown issues and our “Better Way” agenda. Now, the House, to its credit, has been passing this agenda, the House passed its health care bill. The House today, tomorrow we’re going to pass all 12 appropriation bills ahead of schedule, ahead of the fiscal year deadline. We haven’t done that in a long, long time. So the House is making great progress, but not all that progress is being seen through the entire process of the Senate. And so tax reform is one of those things that is a signature issue for us. We ran on it. We are well known for being passionate about it. And we can use the procedural so that we can avoid the filibuster. So, yes, we do have to get this done.
This is a commitment we made to, to not just Republicans but to Americans. And that’s why I think it’s really incredibly important that we deliver on this promise, because if we do deliver on this promise we will help people. We will help improve people’s lives. We’ll get higher wages, faster economic growth, more take-home pay, a simplified tax system and an American tax code that is built for growth, that makes our businesses more competitive so they hire more people in this country. And we have an opportunity to do that. We ran on doing that and we must do it and if we don’t do that then, yeah, I think we’ll have a bunch of problems, not least of which is our elections.
But the country, the country will suffer as a result if we don’t.
AP: Do you think you can keep your majority if you don’t have action on taxes this year?
Ryan: Look, I don’t think there’s a point in speculating. I think we’re going to keep our majority because, you know what, I think we’re going to get this done. I really believe we are going to get this done. And I really believe because we get this done, and the improvement in people’s lives, the faster economic growth, that is why I think we will keep our majority.
AP: How much did what the president did on the DACA complicate your life this fall?
Ryan: Not really. I think the president made the right call.
Ryan: I didn’t want this to be rescinded on day one and create chaos. But he was right in that President (Barack) Obama was wrong in basically using legislative powers that he did not possess. So the president was constitutionally right and I’m pleased the president is respecting the Constitution. And when we asked the White House to give us some time so that we can come up with the right kind of consensus and compromise to fix this problem. And so that is exactly what he should have done, which is what he did. And so I’m pleased with it. Now we’re having conversations with our members on how we put together this compromise.
AP: Certainly some of your members are not pleased to be having to deal with this issue this fall when you have so much else on your plate.
Ryan: This is my challenge. We asked for these jobs. There are problems that need to be fixed and they had to go to the legislature. That’s what legislators do. So that is how I feel about these things. People get frustrated for having to take controversial positions and wrestle with controversial problems. Welcome to Congress. (Laughter)
AP: And for yourself you obviously have a long personal track record on the issue of immigration.
Ryan: I have spent a lot of time on this over the years.
AP: Do you still believe that “Dreamers” should have a pathway to citizenship?
Ryan: Well, I want it. I don’t want to negotiate to the media on what this package will look like …
AP: But your own belief?
Ryan: But I do believe that kicking these 800,000 kids out to countries that they’ve probably not been to since they were toddlers, in countries that speak languages they may not even know, is not in our nation’s interest. So I do believe that there’s got to be a solution to this problem. But at the same time I think it’s only reasonable, it makes perfect common sense, that we deal with the problem that was the root cause of this, which is we do not have operational control of our borders. We are not adequately enforcing our laws. And so it makes perfect sense to fix the source of the problem, the cause, while we deal with the symptom of the problem, the DACA issue, so that we don’t end up with a DACA problem 10 years from now. That’s just completely reasonable. And that’s the kind of conversation, a consensus, that I think we can land on that will have to do. And that’s the kind of conversation we’re just now getting to have with our members.
AP: And you’re meeting obviously with Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats this afternoon. Is that the kind of compromise that you see taking shape there? A fix for “Dreamers” and some elements on border security?
Ryan: I haven’t even heard from them yet. I am the speaker of whole House not just Republicans. And if heads of caucuses want to meet with me to talk about anything, I will, of course, talk with them. So when they asked to meet with me, the heads of various caucuses, to talk about DACA, of course I’m going to meet with them and this is what they’re going to want to discuss. But there’s going to be lots of conversations between lots of different members on how and where we landed on a consensus to fix this problem.
AP: But certainly your members are not going to accept just a DREAM Act?
Ryan: That’s right, that’s right.
AP: Let me pull back a little bit on immigration. After the 2012 race, there’s the infamous “autopsy.”
Ryan: A blast from the past.
AP: There was a lot made about what Republicans needed to do on immigration. After the 2016 election, there was a lot made about how Republicans won despite not having taken that kind of action on immigration. Long term, put that last race behind us, long term, can Republicans be successful if you don’t make progress on immigration?
Ryan: Well, I think we just need to make progress on immigration just for the sake of the country. Put aside politics. This is a broken system that needs to be fixed. What’s broken? We don’t have operational control over borders. I mean heroin in Wisconsin is selling for like 10 bucks. So we have a serious problem that affects all communities with respect to our borders. We have an undocumented population that is kind of out there in limbo. We’ve got labor shortages in areas like agriculture and high tech that are holding back growth. And I really do believe we need to fix this entire system. I don’t think we can do it in one big bill. I just never thought those efforts were going to be successful because the collapse of their own weight.
I actually like the idea of moving to a merit-based immigration system for the economy’s needs. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think it is Cotton and Perdu who have a bill over in the Senate.
AP: Do you support that legislation?
Ryan: I think it has a lot of merit. Whether the numbers … I think that’s something that should be negotiated, the numbers of the actual immigration. But moving from what people describe as chain migration to a skills-based merit system makes a lot of sense, while keeping nuclear families intact. But you’ve got to take a look at the fact that in this economy we have, going forward, with boomers retiring, we’re going to need to find skills, people with skills. I first think we get people who are in this country who are able bodied from welfare to work — got to do that. That’s a big part of welfare reform. But even after we do all of that, there are still going to be dairy farmers in western Wisconsin who they can’t find people to milk their cows. There’s still going to be cranberry orchards or cranberry bogs, excuse me, that need help. There’s going to be, you know, software engineers at Intel that still need people. So I think going to a system that respects those problems, I think that’s a good idea at the end of the day. How we do that and where that consensus is, is the kind of conversations I think Congress has to have.
But I see this as, just as an American, seeing a broken system that was written. … We did ’86 reform, we did ’96 reform. And basically since 2007 we’ve been trying to reform our immigration laws and we haven’t. So the system needs to be fixed.
Ryan: The problem our members have, legitimately, is what they really worry is if we don’t actually get security of our borders and enforce our laws then we’re just going to make the same mistakes we made in the past. And that’s why we have to have these things dealt with.
AP: Does that mean a wall?
Ryan: I think the wall actually works. I think it will look at the reason I say that is because I went down to the Rio Grande and the Border Patrol themselves told me, “Yeah, there are certain spaces where we actually need a physical barrier.”
AP: But not the entire length of the border.
Ryan: I agree with that. That’s right. So I think circumstances on the ground should dictate what you need at various places. Some places in mountainous areas you need something like a smart fence. In parts of the Rio Grande River Valley you need a levee because there’s a huge flooding issue. So there are circumstances on the ground that should dictate how we do border security, but doing border security should be not a negotiable thing. We should have security of our border.
AP: Just to follow up on the RAISE act, that dramatically slashes legal immigration. Is that what you support?
Ryan: The numbers are what I have an issue with. But the idea of going to a skills-based point system, I think, which is what a lot of countries do, I think there’s a lot of merit to that idea. But that’s what I say when I say these numbers, I think, that’s something that needs to be looked at.
AP: We’re going to turn to a couple questions from our audience here. Donna Cassata?
AP: Mr. Speaker. There was a realignment last week, at least temporarily, when the president sided with Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on the disaster and debt relief.
Ryan: Yes, I am familiar with it. (Laughter)
AP: Do you see that changing the legislative landscape over the next couple of months?
Ryan: No, I think what, and I spoke to the president after that and three or four times since then. He wanted to clear the decks for tax reform and he didn’t want to spend weeks haggling over short-term measures while a hurricane was on its way to hitting Florida which has now hit. So, understandably, he wanted to get this stuff out of the way so he could go focus on the bigger things — rapid hurricane response — and I think he was also looking for a bipartisan moment in the face of these hurricanes. Then he wanted to clear the decks for tax reform. As a person who’s been watching credit markets for many, many years, I just strongly believe that these debt instruments need to be longer term, because I worry about what it does to credit markets and what it does to interest rates. So I just feel strongly about longer term extensions in these things because I don’t think you want to play politics with the credit markets. And that’s what I believed then, it’s what I believe now. But the president was basically trying to say I want to get this stuff dealt with. I want to get it out of the way. We want to help these people with hurricanes. And let’s go focus on the big picture like tax reform. So that’s basically what I see his motivation having been and it’s reasonable that that’s the position he took.
AP: So what’s going through your mind when you’re sitting in the Oval Office and you realize the direction that he’s headed here.
Ryan: It was pretty clear to me, because he basically said, “I want this to be a bipartisan moment. I don’t want us to be fighting each other over these details while these hurricanes are hitting us.” So he made it pretty clear right then and there.
AP: Did you and (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell essentially say OK pretty quickly or did you push back a little bit?
Ryan: I feel pretty strongly about the way the credit markets work and the debt extensions. I think we should have done a longer debt extension.
AP: So to follow up on Donna’s question, do you see this as any type of realignment?
Ryan: No I don’t. I see … I mean it’s kind of funny that this is newsworthy.
AP: That a Republican president went with the Democrats? That is newsworthy, given the place that we’ve been.
Ryan: But don’t you want our leaders to talk to each other on the other side of the aisle? I mean, don’t we want presidents to listen to and work with other… And there was no principle violated here. So I think that that’s it’s just only fitting that the president listens to the other party. He didn’t violate a principle. He did what he thought was right for the country at the moment. And I don’t see that as some kind of cardinal violation of any sort.
AP: But that said, the only reason it happened was because you went out there without having 218 votes in your pocket. So how does that change your strategy going forward?
Ryan: You know that does affect us. If I don’t have 218 votes, it’s hard for me to drive good bargains.
AP: So do you just live in constant fear of Trump going over you to Pelosi and Schumer?
Ryan: No I don’t.
AP: And so you don’t agree with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer or when they say that …
Ryan: Stop that sentence right there. Yes. (Laughter) I don’t even know what you’re going to say next.
AP: Well they are arguing that Democrats have more leverage now going forward based on what happened. You don’t agree?
Ryan: Look, I don’t, there’s no point in getting into who has more leverage. The fact is the president achieved what he was looking to achieve: a bipartisan moment to respond to hurricanes, clearing the decks for a few months to get focused on our bigger agenda items like tax reform.
AP: Let’s go back to the audience for a little bit here. Mr. Taylor?
AP: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You came to Washington as a young man working on the Hill and in the conservative movement of a time when your party was largely defined by trying to balance the budget. Now the average Republican in Washington is more conservative now than then.
AP: But it seems like the focus on deficits and the debt is largely lost. Right now you’re not talking about serious spending cuts, you’re talking about a tax plan that’s going to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. So why shouldn’t conservative voters think or believe that Republicans are no longer really serious about spending?
Ryan: I can speak about the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives passed the most historic entitlement reform legislation ever in our health care bill. We block granted Medicaid back to the states and saved $833 billion, off the top of my head. We took another entitlement, “Obamacare,” and converted it to a defined contribution tax credit growing at inflation not at massive premium increases. Those two things right there were the biggest entitlement reform bills ever passed through Congress; 1996’s welfare reform pales in comparison to a $16.5 billion program.
So this Republican House has passed the biggest entitlement legislation ever. And then you take a look at the budget resolution that came out of committee with unanimous Republican votes, more entitlement reform, welfare reform, Medicare reform that was proposed in that budget resolution. Two hundred billion dollars in what we call reconciled entitlement savings. So the House Republicans are still showing our commitment to fiscal discipline, to limited government, to paying down the debt. But a key component in being able to achieve these goals is economic growth. And a key component to economic growth is making sure that we overhaul our tax system so that it is wired for growth, prepped for growth, and does not keep pushing U.S. companies overseas, which is what our current tax code does.
AP: Are House Republicans going to insist that some or all of the $200 billion that you’re talking about be attached to this tax package.
Ryan: We are going to pass our budget resolution. You’re familiar with our budget resolution. And then the Senate’s going to pass their budget resolution. Then we’re going to a conference committee through regular order to find out what the difference is. I’m not going to speculate what the final bill will look like because that’s going to be negotiated between the two, the budget committees.
AP: Erica has been collecting some of our questions from Facebook live. What do you have here?
AP: So Margarita asks, and we discussed this a little bit, “Is the speaker supporting legislation that will give DACA recipients a chance for citizenship?” Let me just ask, do you believe your conference would accept that?
Ryan: What I’m not going to do is get ahead of the people who are going to be negotiating this bill in our conference. I don’t think it’s in our interest to be negotiating through the media the details of these bills. But what we’re going to do in the House Republican conference is pass a bill that has the support of the president and therefore I believe the majority of our members. And that bill is going to have to include some security measures to deal with the root cause of the problem, which is we have unsecure borders. And so the details of this legislation are going to be details worked out by our members negotiating in good faith across the aisle, working with the president where we have his support and, therefore, I believe, majority support of our members.
AP: And how much does the president have to be involved to sell the base on whatever it is going to do.
Ryan: Well, the president is the one who asked us to do this. The president is the one who said what Obama did was unconstitutional and I’m going to delay and I’m asking Congress to fix this problem, so we’re going to be working closely with the president on this.
AP: And then Bill asks, “What can and will be done to decrease gun violence around the country?” It’s been noted that one of the committees this week was taking up legislation to increase the use of firearms, armor piercing bullets, etc. Are you continuing to go in that direction? Is there anything you would like to do to see Congress address gun violence?
Ryan: Well, I think one of the problems that we’ve had are people with mental illnesses. We passed sort of landmark legislation last December dealing with mental illnesses. But we need to fund those bills. That’s what the appropriations bill we’re doing right now, SAMHSA grants and the rest. So I think we need to follow up with the mental health legislation that we passed and make sure that is executed and funded just like we did with 21st century cures and other bills. We’ve got to make sure that we execute those bills so that we can deal with people who have mental illnesses. A lot of these shootings come from people who had mental illnesses, and that’s why we needed a comprehensive overhaul of our mental illness laws, which we hadn’t done in a generation. And now we have to actually implement and execute those laws. That to me is one of the biggest things we can do to reduce a lot of these shootings and reduce a lot of the source of the gun violence we have. But if you’re saying that this Republican Congress is going to infringe upon Second Amendment rights, we’re not going to do that.
AP: I want to get into a little bit of foreign policy here. North Korea. There has been a lot of saber rattling from the president over the last several weeks on this. Talk of “fire and fury,” which in some ways sounded pretty similar to some of the statements we hear from the North Koreans. You get briefed on national security issues, you get briefed on intelligence reports. Have you been briefed on any military solution that you think is viable?
Ryan: Well, I don’t want to go into that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the North Korea issue. I’ve spent days during the recesses with our JSOC, our special operations people. I’ve spent a long time with our intelligence community. So I’ve spent a great deal of time, because in this job you need to be prepared for these things, you need to be informed on these things. So I’ve spent a great deal of time with all matters of our foreign policy establishment, our intelligence community and our military to look at all of the options that are out there. This is my biggest concern is North Korea. It’s my biggest concern for the moment. I think we’re actually making pretty good progress in Raqqa. We’re making pretty good progress on ISIS, and I think the Afghanistan policy change is very, very helpful. I met with the Afghan ambassador yesterday and I think in those situations, we’re improving our policy. This one is the one that concerns me the most.
I think it was really helpful that the U.N. passed — this is a pretty aggressive resolution they passed — but it’s all about execution and implementation. And that is all about the Chinese doing it. It’s about the Chinese helping make sure that we actually enforce these sanctions. These are good tough sanctions, but we need our partners to help make sure that these sanctions actually occur. With respect to our military, our military is the greatest in the world. Our military is up to the job. Our military has looked at all the various options that are there and we do have options. And it is not something we want to be living with, which is a nuclear-armed North Korea capable of striking California. This is not something that we want to be able to live with. So this is something that we do have to address. And I’m very impressed with the planning and the options that are behind all of this. But the last thing I want to do is go into speculating on these things.
AP: I am not asking you to speculate. I’m basically asking you to say, based on what you’ve seen, based on the level of briefings that you see, do you think there actually is a viable military option here.
Ryan: I think our military can do any job we ask them to do. And I think there are a lot of options that are out there.
AP: Are there any options that exist that are not going to create devastation in Seoul, for example?
Ryan: I’m just going to leave it at that.
AP: All right. Let me move on to Iran, another area where the president has talked pretty tough but the administration has continued to authorize the nuclear deal. When you get briefed, do you see any sign that Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal?
Ryan: I see Iran doing so many things to skirt the line. I see Iran doing so many things to destabilize the region. I see Iran doing so many things outside of JCPOA, on ballistic missiles, on proliferation, on funding terrorist groups, on putting rockets into other countries to attack Israel. So I see Iran as a belligerent force in the Middle East doing everything they can to fund and destabilize their neighbors. So I think what Iran is trying to do is basically to undermine their neighbors and export terror.
AP: But that was never part of the nuclear deal.
Ryan: I know it wasn’t part of the nuclear deal, but that’s part of a problem we have which is Iran trying to destabilize their neighbors and being the world’s largest sponsor of state terrorism.
AP: To get back to my initial question, do you see Iran doing anything to suggest they are not complying with the letter of that deal.
Ryan: I don’t yet know the answer to that question.
AP: I’ll let Erika take the last question here.
AP: So switching gears dramatically (laughter), Steve Bannon and Breitbart have not been fans of yours the last few years. Is Breitbart a positive or negative force for the country?
Ryan: I have three certainties in my life: death, taxes and attacks from Breitbart. That is just something I have come to live with in my life.
AP: Is that publication a positive or negative force for the country?
Ryan: Oh, I’m not going to mess with that. I just don’t pay attention to this stuff. It really just doesn’t get to me anymore. I mean I’ve been doing national politics since 2012. I think it’s one of the reasons the members asked me to take this job because they knew that I had the thick skin and sort of the experience to handle this stuff. It really, I don’t even pay attention to what they do. So to be honest with you, Erica, I don’t even know what they do, so I can’t really answer your question because it doesn’t matter to me.
AP: Do you think — one last question in — do you feel like the White House is operating in a more professional way with (chief of staff) John Kelly at the helm, with Steve Bannon outside?
Ryan: Well, I think, you know Reince (Priebus, former chief of staff) is a very good friend of mine. I think he was doing a good job of getting some discipline there. I think the White House, as time goes on, is learning what works and what doesn’t work and I think they’re improving.
AP: Do you think that the president …
Ryan: Whether that has to do with Steve leaving or not, I don’t think that has any bearing on it. I think it has everything to do with any new White House — and this is you know the fourth president I’ve served with — any new White House has to sort of feel its way and they have to basically understand what works and what doesn’t. What style. What tempo. And how do we work with this Congress? And this White House is doing that, just like any White House does. And I think what they’re doing is they’re improving their ability to function and perform because they’re learning every week and every day how to better function and perform.
And whether that’s new personnel or old personnel, I think it’s just the president is kind of getting a sense of what works and what doesn’t work and he’s applying those lessons.
AP: Some of the complaints from the Hill early on was that the president just didn’t understand the process and didn’t understand how long legislation actually took. Do you feel you’ve gotten that message through?
Ryan: The thing is that that frustrates us is the way the Senate works. In defense of them they’ve got to do personnel. They’ve got to do judges and Cabinet secretaries and ambassadors and all the rest. It’s like 1,400 people I think, and the minority can consume I think up to like 30 hours of debate per person. So they have to deal with that. But their cloture rules or filibuster rules is a great source of frustration for the members of the House because we’re a majoritarian body. I mean you know we’re doing this week? We’re passing 12 appropriation bills this week, hundreds of amendments. These are different bodies and it’s a source of frustration for House members. And I think the president sees that the system which, by the way, the founders meant it this way. The founders intended that are our bicameral legislature would be a consensus-driven operation that takes time to pass things. And in this day and age when you want to get things done you want to execute especially if you’ve been running businesses. It gets a little frustrating because Congress doesn’t work like a business and it’s because the founders intended it not to work like a business but to work on consensus. But as House members, working for consensus when we get a majority, then we can pass things in the Senate, for all but reconciliation and CRAs (Continuing Resolution Authorities), it takes more than a majority and it’s really frustrating to a lot of us. And I know that it’s frustrating to the president as well.
AP: I know you have a busy day ahead. Thank you for covering a lot of ground with us here today. And thank you for joining us for the kickoff of the AP Newsmakers series. I’m Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for the AP. Have a great day.