U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election and will leave his post at the start of 2019, further unsettling a Republican Party rocked by Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency ahead of November’s pivotal congressional elections.
Mr. Ryan, who has had an often-strained relationship with Mr. Trump – but helped the President achieve his biggest legislative victory in the form of major tax cuts in December – made the announcement on Wednesday, portraying it as a decision to spend more time with his family after serving two decades in the House.
His action sets up a House leadership succession struggle while Republicans are trying to fend off Democratic efforts to seize control of Congress in the mid-term elections.
“You realize something when you take this job,” said Mr. Ryan, who reluctantly agreed to become Speaker in 2015. “It’s a big job with a lot riding on you, and you feel it. But you also know that this is a job that does not last forever.”
Asked how much Mr. Trump and his conduct in office influenced his decision not to seek re-election for his seat representing a district in southeastern Wisconsin, Mr. Ryan told reporters, “Not at all.”
Mr. Ryan’s announcement marked the latest upheaval in Washington in the second year of Mr. Trump’s presidency, following the firings and resignations of a series of senior White House officials and cabinet members.
In 2016, Mr. Trump slammed Mr. Ryan as a “very weak and ineffective leader.” But on Wednesday, the President wrote on Twitter: “Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!”
Mr. Ryan was scheduled to dine with Mr. Trump on Wednesday evening with other Republican congressional leaders.
Besides holding the top House post, Mr. Ryan’s résumé includes a failed run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012. His retirement has stoked speculation he could be eyeing a presidential campaign in 2020 or beyond, potentially putting him in competition with Mr. Trump or Vice-President Mike Pence.
The House speaker’s position is second in the line of presidential succession, after the vice-president.
Mr. Ryan, 48, cited as his biggest accomplishment the Republican tax overhaul passed by Congress and signed by Mr. Trump without any Democratic support. While Mr. Ryan cultivated a reputation as a fiscal conservative, the tax law and federal spending deals he negotiated will help rack up US$11.7-trillion in federal deficits over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Mr. Ryan became speaker in 2015 after fellow Republican John Boehner quit following clashes with right-wing lawmakers in the divided party.
Among names circulating as a possible replacement for Mr. Ryan were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was wounded by a gunman last year. Those two are expected to wage a furious effort to raise campaign funds for fellow House Republicans to shore up support for their potential leadership aspirations.
Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus that helped prompt Mr. Boehner’s departure, told reporters the job was not on his list of goals.
If Republicans lose control of the House in the November elections they would not be picking a new speaker but rather a minority leader.
Mr. Ryan was criticized by Democrats for what they saw as his failure to stand up to the White House and firmly confront the President on matters such as Mr. Trump’s frequent attacks on U.S. law enforcement and his alienation of U.S. allies.
In 2016, Mr. Ryan hesitated to endorse Mr. Trump after it became clear the wealthy New York real estate developer would become the party’s presidential nominee, though eventually he did so.
Mr. Ryan also voiced unease at candidate Trump’s call for banning Muslims from entering the United States and his criticism of a Mexican-American U.S. judge. A month before the 2016 election, Mr. Ryan said he was “sickened” by Mr. Trump’s remarks about groping women captured on a 2005 audio tape.
After Mr. Trump won in November, 2016, Mr. Ryan’s words softened as he expressed annoyance at being asked to respond to the President’s incendiary Twitter messages but rarely offered direct criticism.
Early in his congressional career, Mr. Ryan was part of a group of self-styled “young guns,” conservatives who sought fiscal discipline, earning a reputation as a fiscal policy expert who advocated less government spending and cuts to popular benefit programs.
Mr. Ryan said he regretted not being able to scale back spending on social-safety-net programs such as the Social Security retirement program and the Medicare and Medicaid programs providing health insurance for the elderly, poor and disabled.
In stepping down, Mr. Ryan may have boosted Democratic prospects in November, as some political analysts see a competitive race for his seat.
Democrats need to pick up at least 23 seats in the 435-member House to regain the majority. Another Republican congressman, Dennis Ross of Florida, announced on Friday he will not seek re-election. Forty-five House Republicans now have either resigned or announced plans not to seek re-election, compared with 20 Democrats.