Ryan Returns to Spotlight at House Republican Retreat
By ASHLEY PARKER
Published: January 18, 2013
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — When House Republicans arrived from the nation’s capital in the colonial capital this week, they were greeted by a brigade in traditional garb. Men in tri-cornered hats twittered away (on the fife), and three founding fathers — Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington — stopped by to give speeches.
Over two and a half days that ended Friday, Republicans holed up at the stately Kingsmill Resort for their annual retreat tried to game out the year. The resort bills itself as a “golf, spa and luxury hotel,” but few of the members had much time for pleasure; as the majority in the House staring down a Democratic-led Senate and Democratic White House, there was work to be done. Even Speaker John A. Boehner, an obsessive golfer, was unable to slip away for a round. (The chilly damp weather, with a light dusting of snow Thursday evening, didn’t help).
Though the news media were not allowed to attend the official retreat, and were sequestered in a restaurant clubhouse on the property (more on that later), here’s a look at what went on:
And He’s Back
When Representative Paul D. Ryan’s vice-presidential bid ended in November, he returned to Congress but receded into the background, giving few interviews and, save for a high-profile vote in favor of the “fiscal cliff” deal, keeping his head down. But for those wondering about Mr. Ryan’s next act, the answer came into relief Thursday, when he addressed journalists as something of the official spokesman for his conference.
“We think the worst thing for the economy, for this Congress and this administration would be to do nothing to get our debt and deficits under control,” Mr. Ryan said. “We know we have a debt crisis coming. This is not an ‘if’ question, it’s a ‘when’ question.”
There had been some suggestion that Mr. Ryan might be considering a presidential bid in 2016 and despite his perch as Budget Committee chairman, was going to pull a rope-a-dope, allowing the House leadership to shoulder the responsibility on coming fiscal fights. But he took a front-and-center role at the retreat, both in public and behind the scenes.
Mr. Ryan was one of only two legislators officially trotted out before the gathered reporters to speak on the record, and he was the one who gave his fellow members a dose of bitter medicine, warning, “We also have to recognize the realities of the divided government that we have.”
He was also the first to publicly mention that his conference was open to the idea of a short-term extension of the debt limit, which ultimately became the biggest news out of the retreat.
If Williamsburg marked the premiere of the 113th Congressional House Republicans, Mr. Ryan apparently intends to take a starring role.
Debt Limit, Debt Limit
The Republican retreat is meant to be an opportunity for members to discuss the coming year. But the most important strategic decision, it seemed, involved only the first 90 days.
So what does the first quarter of 2013 hold? A possible short-term extension of the debt ceiling, which emerged as a proposal on which nearly the entire conference was able to come to rare consensus. But other than the fiscal wrangling to come, Republicans still trying to get their bearings after the November elections did not seem to delve too deeply into the other big issues they are certain to confront.
When Representative John C. Fleming of Louisiana wandered over to the clubhouse to chat with reporters Thursday afternoon, he said that gun control and immigration — two of three major issues on the White House’s plate — had not even come up.
Another participant later clarified that gun control had been discussed, albeit briefly. The verdict: “In terms of legislation, the Senate will almost certainly act first,” the official said.
Though House Republicans have struggled to marshal the majority of their majority on two big-ticket votes, the bare 218 required to pass legislation is no longer sufficient to satisfy Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority whip.
He wants the “full cry.”
The term “whip,” Mr. McCarthy explained, derives from a fox hunting expression. A “full cry,” he added, is the call made when the dog catches the scent of the fox.
When a “full cry” comes, all of the other dogs — in the case of this metaphor, presumably, the House Republicans — fall into line, pursuing the prey with unified vigor. And this “full cry” is exactly what Mr. McCarthy hopes for from his whip team and conference.
On the first night of the retreat, he even presented members of his whip team with sleek new black jackets — with the “full cry” slogan emblazoned on the sleeve in white letters.
To the Stocks
While the House Republicans were treated to colonial festivities (and breakout session after breakout session), the news media were banished to the stocks, confined to a single room in the clubhouse. When several reporters tried to go to an adjoining room to sit by the fire, they were promptly scolded and told they could leave only to eat or use the bathroom. Meanwhile, a lectern — with five American flags — had been set up for the possibility of televised news conferences, but on Friday morning, the official word came: There would be no briefings, the House leadership would not be holding a news conference after all. At that point, the assembled reporters began beating a retreat of their own — back to the nation’s capital for the presidential inauguration.