Speaker Paul Ryan joined me this morning to discuss the budget deal and whether the votes are there in the House to pass it:
HH: Joined now by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan. Mr. Speaker, welcome back.
PR: Hey, good morning. What’s going on, Hugh?
HH: Well, you have timed your visit so that so much news is happening, I cannot point out that Eliot Wolf, Alonzo Highsmith and basically the whole Packers’ front office has moved to Cleveland.
PR: Well, I mean, you’re welcome (laughing).
PR: Yeah, you know, that’s Ron Wolf’s son.
PR: Yeah, Ron Wolf was our legendary general manager. And his son’s a prodigy, too, so…
HH: I know. The Browns are turning, I appreciate it and thank you. Let’s go to the big news.
PR: You bet.
HH: Do you have the votes in the House of Representatives to pass what looks like a done deal in the Senate?
PR: I think we will. I feel good. It’s, part of it depends on the Democrats. This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support. I feel very good about Republicans. Our members who are focused on the military are very happy where we landed with that. We also got a bunch of our other priorities. We got rid of the IPAB, which his this independent payment advisory board from Obamacare. The domestic spending funds the things that we all agree on like infrastructure and opioids and cancer research. And it also has the emergency supplemental. So it’s a big bill, and much of this domestic spending is the one-time stuff like this disaster relief for the hurricanes and the fires. And so people from those states, obviously, are very concerned about getting that aid to, you know, to Houston and to Louisiana and to Florida and to California. So I think we will get this done. I feel good about it. For me, and for you, I know, the main thing is we are finally getting what we call the fit up bill, which is getting the military a budget, number one, but getting the budget they need to actually fulfill their national defense strategy that Secretary Mattis just recently gave out. So we worked very closely with Jim Mattis on this. Our chairman, Mac Thornberry, and he worked the bill to these numbers, build this budget, scrub procurement, get the audit going so that we can get our military rebuilt. And that is, in my opinion, the biggest achievement here. And we also broke parity from the Obama days where Obama insisted if you’re ever going to put a dime in the military, you’ve got to put the same amount of money into domestic spending, no matter the need. Well, that’s not what we’re doing now. We’re putting more support for the military than for domestic, breaking that sort of old Obama rule and prioritizing the military. And I think that’s where our priorities ought to belong.
HH: Well, that’s why I’m applauding this, this morning. And I hope that members who understand providing for the common defense is our number one priority support that, especially members in the Freedom Caucus. I don’t know how you can have freedom without the forces to defend it. And so I applaud breaking the sequester finally and the one for one deal. Let me ask you about the Defense spending. The President has got almost everything he campaigned on through your very significant Congress, whether it’s tax reform, Justice Gorsuch, repeal of the mandate, the individual mandate in Obamacare, regulatory rollback, the pipeline, it’s all been done except the 355 ship Navy that he campaigned on.
HH: Is that coming?
PR: Yeah, that’s coming. That’s in what we call the NDAA. That’s in the Defense Authorization bill. Without getting too wonky, that’s in what we call the NDAA, the Defense Authorization bill. But in order to get that, you have to fund it. This budget is exactly the numbers in the Defense Authorization bill. So the bill that Mac Thornberry and the Armed Services Committee, in conjunction with General Mattis wrote calls for and plans for a 355 ship Navy. Now that takes clearly a lot of time to get, but it calls for that. It puts the plans in place for it. And the budget that it requires for this policy is this budget we are bringing to the floor today.
HH: Now the DOD, there’s some debate between the Mac Thornberry’s and the Thad Cochran’s of the world and the Rob Wittman’s.
HH: And DOD over whether to invest in R&D and readiness versus building out capacity like your shipyards up in Wisconsin.
PR: Yeah. We build LCS’ up in Marinette.
HH: But the Congress, yeah, the Congress decides that, doesn’t it?
HH: That’s up to you guys.
HH: And so which way do you see the caucus going? Are they going to insist that we build out capacity?
PR: Well, so you just described, the people you just described were, are the Appropriations Committee and the authorization committee.
PR: And so the Armed Services is really the committee that gives you the forward-looking vision, which is not just a one year thinking, but a multiyear plan. And the appropriators fund military on an annual basis. And so sometimes, those views can collide with one another, but never before have I seen them more in synch than they are right now. In the past, I would see more friction between the annual appropriators and the long term planners. I see very little daylight between those people. So I think what you’re going to see, Hugh, is a compromise in between these things. And I believe the NDAA, which Kay Granger, she is the head of the Appropriations Committee, she wrote her bill, the annual appropriations, to track with the Defense authorization bill with Mac Thornberry. And it happens that the two of them are very close friends. They’re both Texas congress people. So Kay wrote her appropriation bill to match the NDAA. So I think what you have here is a merger.
HH: Now you know, this is turning out to be one of the most significant congresses of my lifetime. And I’ve already listed all the things that have happened. Do people understand the difference between D.C. in 2015 and D.C. in 2018?
PR: Oh, it’s…
HH: This is a revolution.
PR: No, because you turn on the TV, all but one or two channels, and it’s memo and Russia and distractions and this and that. We have done exactly what you said. First of all, we ran on this agenda. And now, we’re painstakingly, step by step, implementing this agenda. As you mentioned, the President and Congress said we’re going to do tax reform. We’re going to do regulatory roadblocks. We’re going to put conservative justices on the court. We’re going to rebuild our military. We’re going to get rid of the sequester on the military. The President actually talked about that in his campaign. We’re doing that in this bill. Then we’re moving to immigration reform. Then we’re going to go move on workforce development, which is getting people from welfare to work, which is a really important reform so every able-bodied American can go to work and get the skills they need to get the jobs they want so we can get even faster economic growth. That is all part of our agenda that we ran on in A Better Way, that the President campaigned on. And we are well on our way to executing and implementing this agenda. Last year, we passed more bills in the House of Representatives in the President’s first year than the first year of Obama, Clinton or both Bushes. So we’re really kind of rocking and rolling around here.
HH: You also…
PR: But you wouldn’t know it by reading the newspaper.
HH: I know. It’s actually kind of breathtaking that it’s gotten done. But you also ran on re-invigorating Article I’s oversight.
HH: So when Director Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein came to see you about the Nunes report, you turned them down flat. What was that conversation like? Did they understand the Article I responsibilities that you embody?
PR: Well, they certainly heard a recitation of it. So what I’d say is I feel very strongly about Article I. I as speaker of the House am the head of a legislative branch. This is an independent, co-equal branch of government. The separation of powers, and therefore our liberties, only works when these branches are strong, and so that is why we said these document requests are legitimate, they’re completely reasonable, they’re wholly appropriate, and it is our job in the legislative branch, the elected branch of government, to oversee the unelected executive branch. And so therefore, we have to have these documents. They did produce those documents. And in, as you know, there’s different kinds of FISA, by the way. There’s a lot of confusion about this. I’m sure you’re familiar with 702, which is…
PR: …how we spy on foreign terrorists overseas, you know, foreigners who are planning terrorist attacks. And then there’s Section 1, Title 1, excuse me, of FISA, which we believe there’s a case to be made that this has been abused. And if we, the people, have given this kind of power to our executive branch, it is our job in Article I to hold them accountable if we see signs of abuse so that executive power is not abused, and so that our liberties are protected. FISA is a very important law. It’s a very important law that breaks down the barriers between intelligence and law enforcement that we cited in the 9/11 Commission. But it means that we have to be even more vigilant here in Congress in making sure that the executive branch does it the right way, that they don’t cross any lines, that they don’t abuse this power. And this kind of transparency gets you the kind of accountability we need so that these laws are administered properly, and that the Constitution is protected.
HH: Mr. Speaker, when I was in the Reagan Justice Department, I reviewed hundreds and hundreds of FISA warrant applications for Attorney General Smith and Meese, and so I’m very troubled by the revelations that have come out. And I talked to Chairman Nunes yesterday about this. And he brought up the prospect of inviting the Chief Justice, who appoints the FISA justices, to talk to the House, not, you can’t subpoena, obviously, a co-equal branch, but to invite him to come and talk about FISA. Do you support that idea of getting into a conservation? I know you know the Chief Justice.
PR: Yeah, I know him well.
PR: I never, it never crossed my mind, to be honest with you. I have not spoken with Devin about that, but what I think, we learned in this 702, we have a lot of new members of Congress who weren’t around for 9/11 like I was, and who weren’t here for FISA changes. So I do believe it’s very important that our members get really up to speed on how this law works so that we can protect the integrity of the law.
HH: Well, I would think about inviting the Chief Justice since he appoints the FISA judges to come and talk with you.
PR: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
HH: Let me ask you now about the President. He is, as James Hohmann just said, if he didn’t just keep breaking into prison, his numbers would be ten points higher.
HH: You’ve closed the gap, isn’t that funny? That’s a good line from Hohmann.
HH: He does, however, set off these controversies which obscure the legislative accomplishments. Have you chatted with him about this?
PR: Yeah, yeah, we have. We have our fair share of conversations about these things. You can imagine. No, we get along very well, actually. And yeah, sometimes I feel like we don’t need as much white noise, because there’s so much we are actually getting done. On the flip side, you could say that he is shaking things up so much that’s helping us get things done. So…
HH: That’s true.
PR: There’s two ways of looking at it.
HH: Let me go back and finish by talking about the Freedom Caucus. I love these guys. Jim Jordan’s a friend. I love these guys, but this is a moment in time where we have to get rid of this sequester. And I know the Koch network, and I know that the Club For Growth are all banging on you, but we have to get rid of the sequester. Have you sat down in the caucus, and are you going to violate the Hastert rule to bring this forward? Or are you…
PR: No, I don’t think, I don’t think we’ll need to. I think we’re going to be fine.
PR: So I don’t worry about that, because look, discretionary spending, especially the military, that’s not our fiscal problem. We actually cut the military a lot in the Obama years. So I’m not worried. Discretionary spending is not the debt driver. It is entitlements.
PR: And that is why, again, the House passed the biggest entitlement reform bill in history when we passed our Obamacare bill. Unfortunately, which was a huge entitlement reform bill, unfortunately, the Senate didn’t pass it. We’re going to work on other entitlement issues this year. We’ve got to go back to looking at these other entitlements. But it’s the entitlements that need to be reformed if we’re going to deal with the debt. And the military is not the massive fiscal culprit around here that’s the driver of our debt. It is the fact that Baby Boomers are retiring. We’re not prepared for their retirement. And these 20th Century programs like Medicare need to be modernized so they can fulfill their mission without breaking the bank. And that’s what we’ve got to work on.
HH: Two final questions. Your friend and mentor, Mitt Romney, is apparently poised to run for Senate. Do you welcome that? I think he’s going to have to work to keep the vote under 90% if he does in order to make it look not Soviet style. But do you welcome his arrival in D.C. as a senator?
PR: Of course, I do. He’s a very close friend of mine. We adore Mitt and Ann. I think he’ll be a great voice, and he’s going to be a voice for keeping America’s strength and presence in the world strong for the military. I very much welcome him, and I’m, I don’t know why he wants to do it. He has such a great life. But you know, I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek, but Mitt is all about service, duty, honor, country, and I’m excited to have him.
HH: Okay, last question. Have you talked to the Vice President, whose role in this legislative accomplishment is understated, as yours is, but very significant. Have you talked with him, yet, about your future plans, because this is one radio host that’ll be very disappointed if you leave, and I know that you’re thinking about it, but have you talked to the Vice President about that?
PR: No, I haven’t. I have not. Mike and I are good, close friends, actually, very close friends. And we talk about everything else, but we haven’t, we haven’t had that kind of discussion.
HH: Well, congratulations. The vote is tonight, right?
PR: Yes. Yeah, as long as the Senate gets it to us, which I think they will, so yes.
HH: And it’s, in it is a CR that takes us to March 23rd.
PR: That’s right.
HH: And then you sit down to do the details. And in the details will be this Defense Department balancing?
PR: That’s right. That’s the actual appropriations itself.
HH: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well done, and thanks for the front office help. The Browns needed it, and I’ll talk to you again soon.
PR: You’re welcome. Good luck. Hey, I think you guys are going to get Baker Mayfield, and he’s a damn good quarterback. Congratulations.
HH: No, no, no, no, no.
PR: Did I just jinx you with that?
HH: No, not Baker, no, Johnny Manziel.
PR: He’s a good quarterback. I watched him all through his college career. He’s pretty, he’s not Johnny Manziel. He’s not the same thing.
HH: This is the AFC North. You know what it’s like. We need a big 6’ 4” Carson Wentz.
PR: Yeah, he’s not that. He’s not that.
HH: Yeah, he’s not that.
PR: All right.
HH: Okay, we got, oh, gosh, Baker.
PR: Good luck.
HH: Thank you.
PR: Take it easy.
HH: The Speaker trying to destroy the Cleveland Browns in one fell swoop there.
End of interview.