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US House speaker announces exit ahead of mid-terms

11 Apr 2018 16:39 (+01:00 GMT)
US House speaker announces exit ahead of mid-terms

Washington, 11 April (Argus) — The US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said today he will not run for re-election, as Democratic optimism grows for significant electoral gains in the mid-term elections in November.

Ryan says he has accomplished most of what he set out to do in the US Congress, including passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut and a boost to military spending, and wants to spend more time with his family after serving for 20 years. Ryan says he intends to remain speaker until the end of his term in January 2019, offering the chance for further action while Republicans hold a lock on the government.

"I intend to run through the tape," Ryan said.

Ryan's departure is the latest in an exodus of Republican leaders, who have grown frustrated with infighting and the difficulty of governing under President Donald Trump. Republicans are confronting the potential for bruising losses in the mid-terms that would leave fewer votes to advance their agenda, along with the possibility of losing control of the House altogether.

If Democrats gain a House majority, they could demand documents from the administration and increase oversight of ongoing efforts to roll back regulations on the energy sector. After Republicans took control of the House in 2010, they used their power to investigate former president Barack Obama's administration, including the default of a $535mn federal loan to solar manufacturing Solyndra.

Trump today called Ryan a "truly good man" who has left a legacy of achievement. Paul helped push through the tax cuts and increased military spending that represents Trump's main legislative achievements.

Paul said he was confident Republicans will retain control of the House because of their "great record to run on," including tax cuts and a strong economy. Republicans have been struggling to convey that message to voters, amid economic uncertainty around tariffs that Trump is pursuing and signs that most tax cuts are benefiting corporations.

Democrats have been winning special elections in areas that voted heavily for Trump, indicating the possibility of an approaching Democratic wave. Conor Lamb (D-Pennsylvania) won a narrow victory last month in a district held by a Republican since 2003. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) last year was elected to the seat vacated after Jeff Sessions (R) became the US attorney general.

Democrats would need a swell of support to take control of the House — requiring as much as an 11 percentage point margin — because congressional maps are drawn to favor Republicans, according to a recent report from voting rights group the Brennan Center for Justice. Democratic prospects are more difficult in the US Senate, where they are defending 26 seats and Republicans are only defending eight.

Other planned retirements among Republican leadership in the House include Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith (Texas), Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (New Jersey), House Energy Committee vice chairman Joe Barton (Texas) and Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (Virginia).