On Friday, I pointed out that Paul Ryan is bad at his job. I thought I was done.
And then Devin Nunes kept happening.
Last week, Nunes inexplicably confirmed that the White House Transition team—of which he was part—was incidentally intercepted in FISA warrants. If true, this would amount to learning that we spied on people the Trump’s transition team communicated with. This is hardly surprising; the idea that any incoming administration makes no phone calls to people who are suspected of international criminal activity is laughable. The real scandal here is Nunes throwing out all protocol and decorum and making the information public. It is almost certainly a violation of law.
I figured that Paul Ryan had to feel pretty burned. This story broke on Wednesday, in the lead-up to what should have been his first major achievement of the Trump era. The media frenzy that followed detracted from making his case and likely further chilled the House. (For what its worth, Ryan’s own haste and incompetence doomed the bill either way.) But it also made sense that Ryan would put off dealing with it until after the vote. Disciplinary measures against a Committee chair in the middle of tough vote would be politically unsavvy. Fair enough.
But the bill was pulled on Friday. Further revelations show that Nunes is probably collaborating with the people he is supposed to be investigating. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan has an incentive to see the Trump investigation slow-walked, hidden, and generally set a high burden of proof. Paul Ryan is, lest we forget, a Republican. Nunes is rushing things, running to the press, and spouting half-baked theories. Nunes is a political liablity to Ryan and making it look like they are part of the coverup.
Still he has his chair. It is time for us to admit an uncomfortable truth: Ryan is just not that interested in being Speaker. I don’t mean that he doesn’t want the job, though he said as much. I mean that as Speaker he has been very choosy about which parts of his job he has actually done. It is the Speaker’s job to whip a coalition by negotiating amendments to tough bills; he passed that off to Trump. It is his job to craft a legislative strategy that will work; he’s been quite impotent. And it is his job to keep his coalition in line; Nunes keeps floundering very publically.
In fact, Ryan has only done things that fulfill two criteria: they must be easy and they must relate to entitlements. Nunes requires a politically hard action in the short term and has to do with international espionage. Ryan isn’t here for that.
And given that budget reform looks like it is going to be hard, I have to ask: what is Ryan here for?