Narratives about political leaders that develop into conventional wisdom are excruciatingly difficult to disrupt. I always think about how long the media remained attached to the idea that Dick Cheney was the smart, stable guy in the Bush White House. That is why so many pundits who see Speaker Paul Ryan for what he is find the idea that he’s some kind of genius policy wonk so frustrating. It persists no matter what the guy does.
The truth is that Ryan has a very different approach to politics than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who focuses simply on strategy as a means to maintain power. Ryan is a true ideologue, who strategizes how to implement his Randian ideas about the role of government.
Other than ensuring that legislation like a DACA fix or any form of common sense gun control never reaches the House floor, Ryan seems to have been content to work in the shadows since passage of the tax cuts. And yet he is the one behind the scenes responsible for some of the most outrageous conspiracy theories we’ve been subjected to lately.
Yesterday the New York Times reported this:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee were behind the leak of private text messages between the Senate panel’s top Democrat and a Russian-connected lawyer, according to two congressional officials briefed on the matter….
The messages between Mr. Warner and Adam Waldman, a Washington lawyer, show that the senator tried for weeks to arrange a meeting with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who assembled a dossier of salacious claims about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia. The Senate committee has had difficulty making contact with Mr. Steele, whom it views as a key witness. And Mr. Waldman, who knew Mr. Steele, presented himself as a willing partner.
If you remember, the leak about those messages led to a conspiracy theory that was debunked by none other than Sen. Marco Rubio within a couple of hours of its airing on Fox News, the media outlet to which the texts were leaked.
After concluding that it was Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee (led by Rep. Devin Nunes) who were behind the leak, Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat, took their concerns to Speaker Ryan. He told them to take it up “directly with their counterparts” and said that he didn’t run the committee. That is utter nonsense. As Speaker, Ryan has the authority to rein in Rep. Nunes, but clearly supports what he’s doing.
What we have is a Senate Majority Leader who stood in the way of informing the public about Russia’s attempt to influence the election and a House Speaker who is subverting the rule of law by aiding a counter-investigation on Russia designed to spread lies and conspiracy theories. That is the state of Republican congressional leadership at this point.