The speaker is by far the most prominent figure fleeing Congress in a long season of Republican retirements. I just can't let that happen. With the House, Senate and White House not always in agreement, Ryan seems to have been successful in finding middle ground.
The timing is notable for what it signals about a divided GOP and the approaching midterm elections.
Instead, it was King who invoked a photo shared by President Trump on Wednesday night that showed Ryan and other top congressional Republicans grinning at the White House - all white men, flashing a thumbs-up. "He represents a different direction for the party, but also he is a whirlwind of a president and unpredictable", says Matthew Green, an expert on the speakership at Catholic University in Washington.
In the meantime, the scramble to succeed Ryan atop the Republican conference - if not the House majority - could prove intense, some said.
Ryan, from Janesville, Wisconsin, was first elected to Congress in 1998.
His youthful appearance, commitment to physical fitness, and family portrait made him a poster boy for Midwestern values. He was former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.
All this is profoundly sad because Paul Ryan is a serious man and a decent man - a compassionate conservative who was actually both things. But after less than a year, in 2015 he was tapped to become speaker, a position he took reluctantly.
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"I'm grateful to the president", Ryan, R-Wis., said four times in two minutes, with slight grammatical variations, in a news conference Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, noting that Donald Trump's 2016 victory gave Republicans the power to cut taxes and increase military spending.
He is giving up on getting entitlement reform.
Ryan certainly has his detractors.
For Vanessa Williamson, a co-author of "The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism" and fellow at the Brookings Institution, Ryan's exit is a harbinger of tough times ahead for the GOP - even beyond the upcoming elections.
During the Watergate crisis, it was Republican leaders in the legislative and judicial branches who stood strong in defense of democracy and the fundamental principle that no person is above the law and certainly not an elected public servant of the people, which is what the president of the United States remains.
At the moment it appears Ryan's No. 2, Kevin McCarthy has the leg up on becoming his successor, assuming he can placate enough Freedom Caucus members with plum committee assignment promises.
Former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the current minority leader, called Ryan "an avid advocate for his point of view". Or will he keep any dissonant thoughts to himself, in an effort to maintain party unity at a time of great challenge?
"This is not because he'll struggle to raise money", Axios reported.
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That theme- that Ryan is as much a regular guy as he is an accomplished politician- is echoed by many.
"My guess is he'll do what he can to help his party", says Professor Green.
Like all Republican leaders, he claimed to support gun rights, but led a House that declined to pass a single pro-gun bill until the very end, when they used concealed carry reciprocity as a ruse to pass gun control.
Green warns that the party could get consumed by a leadership battle to replace Ryan. "Paul Ryan is the single least popular political leader in the country", said Jeb Fain, a spokesman for the Democrat-supporting House Majority PAC, before Ryan announced his retirement.
Asked whether he would run for office again, Ryan said no. But people are known to change their mind. With Trump, a NY real estate tycoon who has associated with fixers and con men his entire adult life, you never know.
"I never knew what kid was going to become the next Speaker of the Ht that time".
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