Paul Ryan measures tension in private meetings with House Speaker John Boehner by when the Republican leader reaches for a cigarette.
“If it’s a good meeting, he might go without one,” Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, writes in his new book. “If things are tense or frustrating, he’ll start about halfway through.”
“On this night,” a meeting just before the partial government shutdown last October, “he was already smoking when we got there.”
The fact is just one detail from Ryan’s book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.” The 260-page tome is part memoir, part political treatise. It’s available starting today, near the midpoint between the 2012 election, when he was the Republican vice presidential nominee, and the 2016 election, in which he’s considering a run to succeed President Barack Obama.
Ryan, 44, avoids speculation about whether he’ll seek the White House, although he offers insights into how the early deaths of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather -- all before their 60th birthdays -- hastened some of his political decisions. He won his first campaign for the House when he was just 28.
The book is offered as an examination of the challenges facing him and the party: For Ryan, that’s finding the cultural middle ground and political tone to make poverty his signature issue. For Republicans, it’s winning the White House, something they’ve done just twice in the past six presidential elections.
Some of the most interesting passages are behind-the-scenes glimpses Ryan offers of the relationships and posturing among Washington politicians, including the time then-Vice President Dick Cheney shot down Ryan’s plan to invest Social Security taxes in the market.
“As soon as I finished my pitch, Vice President Cheney said, ’Yeah, we’re not going to do that.’ Then he looked at the person sitting next to me signaling that he was ready to hear the next idea,” Ryan writes.
To avoid media attention before being selected as the vice presidential candidate, Ryan hid under a blanket in the back seat of a car on the drive to a private meeting with the presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. When reporters parked in front of his Janesville, Wisconsin home ahead of the announcement, Ryan dressed in camouflage and sneaked through the woods to catch a ride to the airport.
He details the early contacts he had with Romney’s campaign during the primary. Ryan offered critiques, such as advice against making the contest a referendum on Obama because it was “like fingernails on a chalkboard to conservatives.”
Romney and Ryan will share a public stage for the first time since the election on Aug. 21 in Chicago, where they’ll talk about the book.
Ryan also exposes the little-known U.S. House policy that allows members to set their own smoking rules inside their offices, even though its prohibited in public areas.
Describing the divisions within his own party, Ryan details how Republican lawmakers wanted to shut down the federal government last year to avoid any chance they’d be painted as favoring Obamacare.
Ryan writes that he tried to convince a “true conservative from a deep-red district” to support a deal to keep the government operating and “avoid calamity for our party and our country.”
At the time, Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida had characterized the budget debate as the last, best chance to choke off money for Obamacare. Ryan writes that he countered by telling his “close colleague” that Obama’s health-care law would be funded in a shutdown.
“I’m happy to vote to fund the government, but we have to shut it down first,” the unidentified lawmaker told Ryan, according to the book. “That way, we can prove what you’re saying -- that it doesn’t stop Obamacare. But if I vote to stop the shutdown beforehand, then I could be cast as being in favor of Obamacare. I just can’t do that.”
Most Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown. And Ryan seems to agree.
“The shutdown wasn’t a disagreement over principles, or even policies,” Ryan writes. “Rather, it is proof of what happens to a party when it’s defined primarily by what it opposes, instead of by its ideas.”
Ryan, whose “Young Gun” program helped recruit 62 of the 87 Republicans who won office in the 2010 Tea Party wave, ultimately voted against the deal to reopen the government, saying at the time that the plan wouldn’t reduce the debt.
He asserts that the path forward for the party is to set broad goals for policy changes -- reining in debt, limiting the scope of the Federal Reserve, eliminating “corporate welfare” -- while finding ways to celebrate incremental victories. One example he gives is his budget deal with Democratic Senator Patty Murray, which he says was significant simply because it happened.
“Making policy is always going to be somewhat partisan, but it doesn’t have to be this divisive and unproductive,” Ryan writes, adding that “there doesn’t have to be a sense of complete distrust among Republicans.”