NOEL KING, HOST:
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will not seek re-election in the fall.
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PAUL RYAN: This year will be my last one as a member of the House. To be clear, I am not resigning. I intend to full my serve term as I was elected to do. But I will be retiring in January, leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe is a very bright future.
KING: All right, the speaker misspoke a little there. He likely meant to say, serve my full term. For more on the implications of this, we're joined by NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis.
Good morning, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right, so this seems to have come as a surprise to a lot of people. Do we know why Speaker Ryan made this decision right now?
DAVIS: Paul Ryan has said every two years in the spring, as he has served in the House, is when he makes his decision, and that his top consultant on this matter is his wife and that they - Congress just returned from a two-week break. And clearly, over this two-week break, he had this conversation with his wife, and he ultimately decided that he would not run for re-election. It comes as a surprise because I think there was a lot of speculation that the speaker would likely not serve into the next Congress. But there was an idea that he would at least serve out the term, win re-election and maybe announce after the election. He said today he thought about doing that, but that he thought that would be lying to his constituents, that if he knew he was going to retire after he won, that it wasn't fair, so he's making the decision now.
KING: This obviously will have a lot of bearing on his colleagues in Congress. What does his move say about the confidence or the lack of confidence in the Republican Party's ability to hold the majority in Congress?
DAVIS: He was asked about that this morning - whether the ability to hold the majority was a factor. And this is what he had to say.
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RYAN: None whatsoever, actually. Look, you all know me. I didn't take this job to get the gavel in the first place. I'm not a guy who thinks about it like that. This really was two things. I have accomplished much of what I came here to do. And my kids aren't getting any younger. And if I stay, they're only going to know me as a weekend dad, and that's just something I consciously can't do. And that's really it right there.
DAVIS: A little bit of a fact check there - it is true, he has three young children, and he has been a weekend dad for their entire lives. So I think there is a compelling personal argument there to go home. But the House is very much at risk. All of the political advantages right now are moving in Democrats' favor. They need to pick up about 24 seats to win control of the House majority. And we also saw another retirement today from Dennis Ross, a Republican from Florida. There are a lot of Republicans heading for the exits. It does not speak to a broader confidence about the Republican Party's ability to hold the House this November.
KING: Did that second retirement come after speaker Ryan's retirement?
DAVIS: It did, and probably stole his thunder a little bit. But also, we are - one of the many factors that are interesting about the 2018 midterm climate is we are seeing a historic level of retirements from incumbents. And one of those factors is - when incumbents decided not to run for re-election is because they know they're going to have a very hard time winning re-election.
KING: What was Ryan's relationship like with President Trump, and do you think that it all contributed to this decision?
DAVIS: I don't think it contributed to his decision because they have a very good relationship as of today.
DAVIS: Historically, it's been complicated. You know, Trump represents a different kind of conservatism than the kind of conservatism that Paul Ryan stood for. And during the campaign, they were often at odds. He criticized the president's character. He wanted him to get out of the race after the infamous "Access Hollywood" tapes incident. But they really learned to work together in the first year of the majority. It was obviously a very rocky first year under President Trump, but it culminated with the passage of the 2017 tax cuts, which Ryan today stated was part of his factor in deciding to leave because he felt like he had done the kind of legacy-cementing thing that politicians often come to Washington to do.
KING: What - who's likely to replace him, and what might they bring to the table that is new?
DAVIS: Well, this is going to be the Capitol intrigue for the next six months - not only who will replace Paul Ryan, but whether the next speaker will be a Republican or a Democrat if the House is very much in play. The two Republicans you're going to hear the most about are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 in the House - he attempted to run for speaker in the past and couldn't build up the support; he is likely to make another run at it - and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He is the No. 3 Republican. He will also likely seek to climb up the leadership ladder. He is someone who I think is better-known now because he was involved in the congressional baseball shooting. He was very...
KING: Of course.
DAVIS: ...Who was wounded there, and is recovered, and is a very popular and liked figure. Both of them are within the Republican Party. But then the open question is, is the next speaker going to be a Republican or a Democrat? And Democrats of their own have their own leadership questions of, who's going to lead this party come 2019?
KING: What's been the response to Ryan's announcement today?
DAVIS: I don't think any Republican was shocked because Ryan always made clear he never really wanted to be speaker. He took the job reluctantly when John Boehner decided he would step down. And he didn't want to stay in the job. So I think it's not necessarily that he's leaving, but the timing is a little bit of a shock. And I think it was going to be taken a little bit hard by a lot of Republicans who know that this will be interpreted as an indication that there is less and less confidence that they are going to hold the majority come next year.
KING: And in the couple seconds we have left, is his legacy going to be the tax bill?
DAVIS: The tax bill, certainly, and I also think, as he said today, he believes that part of his legacy has been shifting the conversations on entitlements, on Medicare, Social Security and the conservative argument that they need to be privatized long term.
KING: More to be seen there. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis - thanks, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.