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Once A Rising GOP Star, Paul Ryan Delivers Farewell Address


And now we're going to take the next few minutes to mark a departure. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is leaving the political stage. The Wisconsin Republican gave a farewell address today at the Library of Congress.


PAUL RYAN: We have taken on some of the biggest challenges of our time, and we have made a great and lasting difference in the trajectory of this country.

CHANG: Joining us now to talk about Ryan's impact on the Hill and his legacy is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.


CHANG: So I do want to get something straight here. House Republicans just lost 40 seats in the midterms, but Ryan sounded there like he was sort of taking a victory lap or something. Is there a bit of a disconnect?

DAVIS: Nothing to see here - moving on.

CHANG: Right.

DAVIS: You're absolutely right. I mean, he's a speaker who lost the House on his watch. That is part of his legacy leaving. That is not what he wanted to talk about today. I think, to the extent that Paul Ryan gets a say in what his legacy is, it's clear that he really wants it to be remembered for the $1.1 trillion tax cut package that Republicans passed last year. His office has gone to great lengths in his final days in office. They put out a six-part series on - a web series recounting the passage of this bill and his role in doing that.

CHANG: Riveting.

DAVIS: I don't think there's any debate that the tax cut legislation was the biggest piece of legislation that Ryan had an impact on in his 20 years on Capitol Hill. That said, I think there's still a very spirited debate going on on the merits of those tax cuts and whether they will deliver, for the economy and for taxpayers, in the long term in the way that Paul Ryan has promised.

CHANG: Yeah, I mean, Ryan has always been portrayed as kind of this big ideas guy in the Republican Party. He wanted to balance the budget. He was a self-described deficit hawk. He wanted to transform Medicare. What happened with those big ideas?

DAVIS: You know, at this point in time, they've really kind of fizzled out. Those policy proposals you're talking about are exactly what gave him that sort of rising star moniker in the party. It's why Mitt Romney wanted him to be his running mate in 2012. But none of those ideas really came to pass while he was in power. I think that a lot of Paul Ryan's detractors will say that he betrayed a lot of the ideas he said he believed in. He always talked about himself as this fiscal hawk.

But on his watch, you know, debts and deficits grew. Republicans increased spending. He's leaving office with a national debt that has crossed $21 trillion. And there's no end in sight to any of that. So a lot of people that think that Paul Ryan talked aspirationally about changing all of those things - didn't ultimately in the end move the needle in that direction. If anything, they've been made worse.

CHANG: And as people keep trying to assess his legacy, I mean, his speakership is going to be defined a lot by his relationship with President Trump and by the ideological battles inside the Republican Party. What do you think his departure says about the state of the Republican Party now?

DAVIS: They really became sort of these proxies during the 2016 presidential race - the wings of the party. The Ryan wing was seen as the establishment. The Trump wing was the uprising, the outsiders. I don't really think there's much disagreement within the party right now that the Trump wing is ascendant - that they kind of won that ideological debate. I think that Ryan has also said that his leaving also marks the end to kind of a tone of politics. And he talked about that too.

He has always tried to talk in an aspirational tone in the mold of Ronald Reagan or his hero - or his mentor Jack Kemp. And he talked about the confrontational tone of politics today. Although, again, he declined to criticize President Trump for the role he's possibly played in that, he did say that he would like his next effort in life to try and change the tone of our politics. But he also admitted in his farewell address he has no idea how to do that.

CHANG: That's NPR's Sue Davis. Thanks so much, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.