March 17, 2016
By John Hardwood, CNBC
With his youthful earnestness, genial personality and devotion to conservative policy, Paul Ryan enjoyed a special stature within GOP even before he became House speaker late last year.
John Boehner had resigned in frustration with his fractious caucus, and colleagues pressed Ryan to take over the job, three years after his unsuccessful bid as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
Now the raucous 2016 presidential race — which Ryan considered, then decided not to enter — is posing fresh challenges. Criticizing some statements by GOP front-runner Donald Trump but pledging to support him if nominated, Ryan has been leading his colleagues toward developing their own conservative agenda to be unveiled before this summer’s Republican convention.
The 46-year-old Irish-American speaker sat down with me this week to discuss those challenges over a glass of Guinness in the Capitol, hours after he hosted President Barack Obama and Ireland’s prime minister at a luncheon. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
HARWOOD: You’ve got to be really happy you didn’t run for president this year.
RYAN: Yes. I think that’s probably a totally, completely fair thing to say. I looked into it. For lots of reasons I didn’t do it, namely phase of life, family reasons, our kids are pretty young.
HARWOOD; We do have a clear front-runner in the Republican race. You and Donald Trump — how’s that going to work?
RYAN: We’ll make it work if it happens. I’m going to speak my mind. I’m going to defend conservatism as I understand it. I’m going to defend our ideas as the Republican Party. But we’re going to have to work with whoever our nominee is.
HARWOOD: How do you take into account, as you shape your agenda, the voices of Republican voters as expressed in these primaries so far?
RYAN: Well, it’s bottom up here in the House. So every one of our members of the House Republican Conference is working on this agenda, participating in assembling this agenda based on getting influence and input from their own constituents. Every member of Congress, that’s what we do. If you’re in the House, you are from the people. You are the grassroots. You’re elected every other year. And out of that come these solutions, which we’re going to take to the country and say, “Here is what we will do if you, our fellow citizens, give us the ability to put it in place. Here’s how we get America out of the rut we are in.”