House speaker Paul Ryan in an interview about tax policy with Thomson Reuters in Washington, US, on October 25 2017. Picture: REUTERS
House speaker Paul Ryan in an interview about tax policy with Thomson Reuters in Washington, US, on October 25 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — US House speaker Paul Ryan would not seek re-election in November, a top aide said on Wednesday, dealing a blow to congressional Republicans already facing a possible Democratic takeover of the House in the November elections and setting off a GOP leadership battle.

"This morning, speaker Ryan shared with his colleagues that this will be his last year as a member of the House," Ryan adviser Brendan Buck said in a statement. "He will serve out his full term, run through the tape, and then retire in January."

Ryan’s retirement had been the subject of rumours in the halls of Congress for months and the Wisconsin Republican has given only vague answers when asked about his plans. After passage of Ryan’s long-sought tax overhaul late last year, the speaker clashed with US President Donald Trump over his planned tariffs.

Trump 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!"

His departure sets up a battle for control of the chamber. Among likely contenders are Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the number two and number three GOP leaders in the House.

Scalise declined to comment, and there was no immediate response from McCarthy’s office.

Ryan’s decision comes as recent special elections that reaped Democrats an Alabama Senate seat and a House seat in Pennsylvania hint at a building anti-GOP wave that may overturn the party’s majority in Congress.

Ryan took the speaker’s post in late 2015 after fellow Republican John Boehner stepped aside and his heir apparent — majority leader Kevin McCarthy — abruptly dropped out of the race to replace him.

Fractious Republicans

The Wisconsin native has struggled to manage the often difficult and thankless task of wrangling the fractious Republican conference. A former chair of the House budget committee, Ryan — who was first elected to Congress in 1998, at 28 — has spent much of his career focused on fiscal policy. He’s focused particularly on pressing the need to rein in entitlement growth.

Pennsylvania Republican representative Ryan Costello said Ryan indicated it was a "deeply personal" decision made so he could spend more time with his family and not a reflection of the political challenges Republicans face in November.

Another potential contender is North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus. "The only thing that is my focus right now is delivering results to the American people. Leadership positions were never on my bucket list," Meadows said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

If for no other reason, Ryan will be missed by his colleagues for his fundraising prowess. His time as a vice-presidential candidate in 2012 helped him build relationships with a national network of donors and his policy positions were in sync with the sort of establishment Republicans who attend fundraisers.

During the first quarter of 2018, his joint fundraising committee — Team Ryan — pulled in $11.1m. So far in the 2017-18 election cycle, he has raised more than $54m, a total Ryan’s political aides have called an unprecedented sum for a speaker’s political organisation.

More than $40m of the total has been transferred to the national Republican congressional committee, the main campaign operation for House Republicans.

So far this election season, Ryan has travelled to more than 30 states and more than 70 cities to raise money. He is likely to maintain a robust fundraising schedule for the rest of this election year, although with his planned exit from power he is not likely to be as hot a ticket on the fundraising circuit.