House Speaker Paul Ryan continues to walk a fine line on Donald Trump, stopping short of endorsing the presumptive GOP presidential nominee after their highly anticipated meeting today.
Ryan described that meeting as a “positive step,” and the two men issued a joint statement calling on Republicans to “unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda and do all we can to win this fall.”
Ryan’s reticence to embrace the abrasive billionaire is not likely to score points for him within his party. When the Janesville Republican began his tenure as House Speaker, he had the support of nearly 70 percent of his party. Since then, his approval rating has fallen to 40 percent among GOP voters, while 44 percent of them have turned against Ryan.
Meanwhile, the party has quickly unified around Trump. A PPP poll released on May 10 found that 72 percent of Republicans now say they’re comfortable with Trump, while only 21 percent still say they aren’t.
But it different in Ryan’s 1st Congressional District, where voters clearly have their representative’s back. In truth, few Republicans or Democrats in Wisconsin found fault with Ryan’s statement last week that he was “just not ready” to back Trump.
“I think he’s a very smart, reasonable, honorable man, who is trying to get his party organized and whole again,” Lynn Westphal, a 55-year-old nurse and self-described independent, said of Ryan.
In an interview at a Main Street café, just across from Ryan’s Janesville office, Westphal said she thought Ryan was handling the situation “the best he can.” Patty Schumacher, a 59-year-old banker and independent, agreed.
“It’s going to take a bigger push than just him,” she said.
Her sister, 61-year-old Maryanne Kessel, chimed in: “But he’s a good one to lead it.”
Ryan was first elected to the House in 1998 and represents the southeast corner of the state along the Illinois border. He was tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and was elected speaker in October.
His hometown of Janesville is a Democratic, blue-collar, union city in Rock County, still reeling from the closure of its General Motors plant in 2009. The downtown has lost its vibrancy, and the main employers are now Mercy Health System, the school district and the county. The town of around 65,000 is peppered with people who are Ryan’s old high school buddies, are friends with his wife or worked on his campaign.
“What I like about Paul is he calls a spade a spade,” said Dave Dobson, who leans Democratic but said he would back Ryan for president if he entered the race. “He doesn’t play political games.”
Dobson, a siding and window contractor, poured two overflowing spoons of sugar into his coffee as he joined his friends at the counter of Citrus Cafe. MSNBC played above the bar, running coverage of Ryan telling a reporter earlier that morning that he would step down as chairman of the Republican National Convention if Trump wanted him to do so.
Miguel Maravillo, a 40-year-old worker at a Mexican grocery store in Janesville who criticized Trump’s generalizations about immigrants, said it was brave of Ryan to voice his hesitation. Maravillo said in Spanish that many people criticize Trump in private, but they don’t say it “to the four winds.”
Trump didn’t do all that well in the district, finishing well behind Ted Cruz in the state’s April presidential primary. And even the Trump supporters here had few harsh words for Ryan.
“I think we need Ryan on board, but I understand,” said Kevin Anderson, a 49-year-old welder who lives in Beloit, just south of Janesville.
In a series of interviews here, no one gave much of a chance to Ryan’s primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, even though Sarah Palin boasts that she’ll oust Ryan for his disrespect toward Trump by supporting his opponent. According to a recent poll, Republican voters in his district support Ryan by 78–14 percent.
Many of Ryan’s GOP constituents said they still held out hope that Ryan would change his mind and join the presidential race. That included Anderson, the Trump backer.
“I almost wanted it to go to a contested convention,” Anderson said.
But McCann, a pharmacist who usually votes Republican, says he is holding out for a Ryan candidacy in 2020.
“I don’t think this is his time yet,” McCann said.
Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.
Officials in Paul Ryan’s hometown passed an ordinance saying that transgender people must be allowed to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. The ordinance is intended to end discrimination against transgender people.
The Janesville City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to pass the ordinance. Opponents said the bill could create a loophole for child predators, the Janesville Gazette reported.
City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said those concerns were without merit and that people would be prosecuted for lewd acts or offenses in bathrooms, regardless of gender identification. “Those laws still apply,” Klimczyk said.
Transgender advocates have questioned the thinking of critics who contend that people would go through sex reassignment — an elaborate, difficult and expensive process that can last years — just to spy on people in a public bathroom.
Similar laws designed to prevent discrimination have been passed or considered around the country. Gay rights advocates in North Carolina have sued over a law passed last week that prevents local governments from approving protections for LGBT people. Also, Georgia’s governor announced this week that he’d veto a “religious freedom” bill that critics of the measure say would have sanctioned discrimination.
Wisconsin’s Republican leadership attempted to pass such a bill during the last session. The Assembly approved it but Senate leaders apparently decided not to act on it after being contacted by outraged people and groups from all over the nation.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said his office will not comment on the local issue.
The four armed activists still occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon have shown no signs they are ready to leave more than a week after the main figures in the standoff were arrested.
Ammon Bundy led the group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 to oppose federal land policies and has repeatedly asked the holdouts to go home. The Associated Press has not been able to contact the remaining occupiers, but they have said in online statements and interviews that they want assurances they won’t be arrested.
Like most of the occupiers, none of the holdouts is from Oregon. Here are details about them:
SEAN AND SANDY ANDERSON
The husband and wife moved from the town of Janesville, Wisconsin, within the last several years to Riggins, Idaho, where Sean, 47, opened a store for hunting, tactical and survival gear. Sandy, 48, worked at a gas station.
Idaho County, where they live, and Harney County, 290 miles away where the refuge is located, are similar in many ways. Both have large portions of land managed by federal agencies and populations chafing at restrictions put on that land.
Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings said the Andersons are good residents, though he didn’t know as much about Sean as he did about Sandy.
“She’s a good person, she’s just upset with the government,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Sean Anderson is facing misdemeanor charges in Wisconsin for resisting an officer, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana.
He also has pleaded guilty to a series of misdemeanors in recent years: domestic abuse in December 2010, disorderly conduct in 2008, criminal trespass in a dwelling in 2002, and disorderly conduct in 1999.
A friend of the couple, Lindsey Dipo, told the Lewiston Tribune newspaper that the couple recorded their will on Dipo’s cellphone before departing for Oregon.
The 47-year-old has lived in Elko, Nevada, the last several years and worked in construction most of his life, his ex-wife said.
Banta graduated from Yerington High School in the rural town of Yerington, about 70 miles southeast of Reno, said Angela Ellington Banta, who still lives there.
His father, Willard Banta, 73, said all of his children grew up hunting and fishing at an early age.
“I had them out in the hills with me as soon as they were old enough to walk and out of diapers,” he said Wednesday.
The elder Banta said he had talked to his son “once or twice” since the standoff began but declined to provide details.
“He just said, ‘I’m all right,'” Willard Banta said. “I’m wondering if he is going to make it out. I’d like to see my son come home. I hope he does, but I have my doubts.”
Jeffrey Banta and his ex-wife have two children, the eldest a 23-year-old woman who is married and has a child living in the Reno area.
Ellington Banta said she doesn’t really know what her ex-husband has been doing in recent years and doesn’t want to discuss the standoff because she has “two kids who have been really affected by all this.”
The 27-year-old from Blanchester, Ohio, formed an online friendship with Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and helped the Arizona rancher self-publish a novel. Finicum became a recognizable spokesman for the armed group before he was shot and killed by police in a confrontation last month.
Fry traveled, apparently unarmed and against the advice of his father, to the refuge, where he often posted online updates. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting in mid-January that he planned to say goodbye to Finicum and return home before his father got back from a vacation.
Within two weeks, Finicum was dead, shot as authorities moved in to arrest Bundy and others on a remote stretch of road outside the refuge.
Fry has rejected Bundy’s call to leave, saying federal authorities might be forcing him to make the request.
“We’re still here,” he told an online talk show Monday that airs on YouTube channel Revolution Radio. “I never saw myself as a leader. … We’re waiting for some kind of miracle to happen.”
In Ohio, Fry has several convictions for disorderly conduct, as well as possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to take over one of the most powerful committees in Congress could hit a snag when lawmakers return after the midterm elections.
Ryan, the Republican Party’s candidate for vice president two years ago and a representative from Wisconsin, has been telling colleagues for much of the past year that he wants to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the new Congress next year. The post could provide a platform for the Wisconsin Republican to launch a possible bid for president in 2016.
But Ryan has competition from a formidable opponent – Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican from Texas.
Brady said that he plans to wage a “friendly” battle with Ryan for the job.
“I want to give my colleagues two good choices,” Brady said in a telephone interview. “Paul Ryan is a terrific leader and he’s a good friend.”
The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the biggest economic issues facing the country – taxes, trade, Social Security, health care and social programs.
Brady’s candidacy could force Ryan to spell out his 2016 intentions as early as November, if fellow Republicans raise concerns that a presidential bid could be a distraction to such an important committee. House committee chairmen will be named during the lame duck session of Congress following the election.
If Republicans keep control of the House, committee chairmen will be nominated by a GOP steering committee led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The full House Republican conference generally approves the nominees.
Brady is a nine-term incumbent and the second most senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. He chairs the panel’s health subcommittee.
“I’m prepared and qualified,” Brady said, adding that he wants to focus on tax reform, Medicare fraud and improving Social Security’s disability program.
Also important, Brady is part of the Texas delegation in the House, which boasts 24 Republicans, giving it a strong voice. Brady represents a solidly Republican district just north of Houston. He has a Libertarian opponent in the November election but there is no Democrat on the ballot.
Brady’s Republican-friendly district has given him time to help fellow Republicans with their campaigns this year. That will be his focus until after the election, Brady said.
Ryan is right behind Brady in seniority on the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan is now chairman of the House Budget Committee, but he must step down from the post because House Republicans impose term limits on committee chairmen.
When asked about the competition to lead the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan’s spokesman, Brian Bolduc, said, “Congressman Ryan is focused on his work at the House Budget Committee.”
As Budget chairman, Ryan has made a name for himself as the main architect of several conservative House Republican budgets.
Many of Ryan’s proposed spending cuts have never made it into law because of opposition from Senate Democrats and the Obama White House. But Ryan has gained a following, especially among conservatives, for his willingness to spell out difficult spending cuts.
On Ways and Means, the next chairman is expected to lead House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax code, which politicians of many stripes agree is too complicated. If House Republicans offer an alternative to President Barack Obama’s health law, the Ways and Means Committee could play a key role.
Also, Congress will soon have to deal with Social Security’s disability program, which is facing a potential financial crisis in 2016.
All these issues offer pitfalls as well as opportunities for the next chairman of the Ways and Means committee. And consensus will be hard to come by, especially in the current partisan atmosphere.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., currently chairs the committee. He is retiring at the end of the year.
Camp worked for years to build a consensus around the idea of overhauling the tax code – lowering tax rates for everyone while making up the revenue by scaling back credits, deductions and exemptions. But after Camp unveiled a comprehensive plan in February, it went nowhere, despite House Republicans claiming to champion the issue.
Brady said Camp did important groundwork on the issue, giving the next committee chairman a good head start on the issue.
Another Wisconsin school district has adopted a policy allowing transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of the gender with which they identify if it’s OK with their parents and principals.
The Janesville School District adopted the policy to bar discrimination based on gender identity, the Janesville Gazette reported Sept. 5.
Janesville is the hometown of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a staunch social conservative.
Craig High School teacher Katy Hess, who advises the school’s Gay-straight Alliance, said she knows of five or six transgender students at the school and regularly hears club members talk about bullying and harassment that they have experienced.
“I have to commend the school board and the school district for stepping up,” Hess said. “The GSA and a lot of people were really pleased to see that.”
Hess said her brother was born a female but identified as male, and high school was a tough time for him.
“My brother wouldn’t go to the bathroom in high school because he wouldn’t go in the girl’s bathroom,” Hess said. “But he couldn’t go in the guy’s bathroom because he looked like a girl at that time. So just little things like that — where you’re holding your bathroom all day long —are things we take for granted.”
The policy adopted by the board says schools will provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students, including use of single-sex facilities such as locker rooms, after receiving written requests from their parents or guardians. School principals must approve the requests.
The policy reflects a similar one adopted by Shorewood School District in a northern Milwaukee lakeside suburb in March.
Hess said Craig High School already has a gender neutral bathroom that is available to students.
“These kids have always been here,” she said. “They were here 10 years ago, they were here 20 years ago, and they were here 50 years ago. It’s just they were never safe to be who they wanted to be, and I think it’s positive to have an environment that they can just be themselves.”
Rob Zerban, the Democrat who lost to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in last year’s election, is mounting a new challenge for 2014.
Zerban made his announcement official at a rally in Kenosha a week after Democrat Amar Kaleka, 35, announced his interest in seeking the seat.
The 45-year-old Zerban is a former Kenosha County Board supervisor who used to run two small businesses.
Zerban says he supports green technology, immigration reform and same-sex marriage.
“People in our neighborhoods don’t care first about being a Republican or Democrat,” the candidate said. “We don’t care about which party is up and which party is down. We care that our schools are strong, that we have access to quality, affordable health care, that our communities are safe and our drinking water is clean and our air is breathable. We care that people get treated fairly, no matter who they love, and we care that women and men get treated the same. Most importantly, we want to know that there are jobs out there for our kids when they finish high school or college or technical school — and that if someone in our family loses their job, that they can find another one.”
Milwaukee Common Council asks to limit money in politics
The Milwaukee Common Council on Nov. 5 unanimously approved a resolution to place on the Nov. 19 ballot a citizens’ advisory referendum limiting money in politics. The referendum asks the public whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to establish that money is not speech and therefore legislation may limit political contribution amounts and require the identification of contributors. Sixteen states have passed resolutions asking for such an amendment. A total of 34 are needed.
In other regional news …
• A Janesville, Wis., man was arrested early Oct. 26 for allegedly assaulting two men speaking Hebrew in the 200 block of North Henry Street in Madison. A Madison Police Department report said 23-year-old Dylan T. Grall punched the men after cursing at them and demanding they speak English. Grall thought the men were speaking Spanish. He faces two charges of battery with a hate-crime enhancer. One victim, age 22, is from Skokie, Ill., and the other victim, age 23, is from Milwaukee.
• More than $1.9 billion in grants were funded through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program for fiscal 2013. About $1.16 billion was awarded under Part B to be used for home and community-based services, AIDS Drug Assistance Program assistance and other direct services. Wisconsin received $8,662,447 for Part B. Another $178 million was awarded nationwide to provide core medical and support services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS under Part C of the program. In Wisconsin, awards included: $469,713 to Milwaukee Health Services; $531,980 to University of Wisconsin System; $485,624 to AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin; $392,884 to 16th Street Community Health Center.
• Two men recently filed a complaint with the state of Illinois against a Chicago taxicab company. Steven White of West Hollywood, Calif., and Matthew McCrea of Chicago say they kissed during a ride in May. They claim the driver for Sun Taxi turned the interior lights on and off, telling them, “This is public transportation.” The driver then ordered them out, they claimed.
— WiG and AP reports
Rob Zerban, the Democrat who lost to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in last year’s election, is mounting a new challenge next year.
Zerban told The Associated Press this week he was getting back in the race.
He made his announcement official at a rally in Kenosha over the weekend.
He lost last year by 12 percentage points, 55 percent to 43 percent. But that was Ryan’s smallest margin of victory in eight races.
The 45-year-old Zerban is a former Kenosha County Board supervisor who used to run two small businesses. He blames Ryan for voting against ending the government shutdown, and for advancing a budget that cuts money from social-service programs.
“I have lived the American dream,” said Zerban. “But the American Dream is getting harder and harder to achieve. Under this incumbent Congressman, we have an economy that favors the very few, the wealthy and the well-connected.”
He added, “These last few weeks have made it clear that not only do we need a different vision for America than the incumbent, we need a different set of personal values.”
Zerban says he supports green technology, immigration reform and same-sex marriage.
“People in our neighborhoods don’t care first about being a Republican or Democrat,” said Zerban. “We don’t care about which party is up and which party is down. We care that our schools are strong, that we have access to quality, affordable health care that our communities are safe and our drinking water is clean and our air is breathable. We care that people get treated fairly, no matter who they love, and we care that women and men get treated the same. Most importantly – we want to know that there are jobs out there for our kids when they finish high school or college or technical school – and that if someone in our family loses their job, that they can find another one.”
Democrat Amar Kaleka, 35, also plans to run for the seat.
A Janesville, Wis., man was arrested early Oct. 26 for allegedly assaulting two men speaking Hebrew in the 200 block of North Henry Street in Madison.
A Madison Police Department report said 23-year-old Dylan T. Grall punched the men at about 2:19 a.m. after cursing at them and demanding they speak English.
Grall thought the men were speaking Spanish, according to the report, which said that one victim fell to the ground after being punched in the face. The other man was hit in the eye.
Grall was arrested on two charges of battery with a hate-crime enhancer. He allegedly denied delivering the blows but acknowledged telling the men to speak English.
One victim, age 22, is from Skokie, Ill., and the other victim, age 23, is from Milwaukee.
Former vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan went home to Janesville, Wis., and unplugged after he and Republican running mate Mitt Romney lost the election last week.
No news, no interviews – just time with his family.
“It hurts to lose a big election like this, but I don’t have any regrets whatsoever,” Ryan told The Journal Times on Monday, in a series of interviews with the local media. “We ran the kind of race we wanted to run,” campaigning on “specific solutions and big ideas.”
He was re-elected for the eighth time to the House as southeastern Wisconsin’s congressman. Ryan said after he returned home on Nov. 7 he attended his son’s basketball games and his daughter’s volleyball games and went hunting, even helping daughter Liza get her hunter safety certificate.
Ultimately, he said President Barack Obama, re-elected with almost 51 percent of the popular vote, “did a better job of getting the voters to the polls.”
“It’s bittersweet. The sweet part is I’m back home on the block I grew up on, with my friends and family,” he said. “The bitter part is we lost a major presidential election at a critical time.”
He was headed back to Washington this week as the House Budget Committee’s chair to start a lame duck session that hopes to make headway addressing the country’s debt problems before a new wave of tax increases and spending cuts take effect.
“Whether people intended to or not, they re-elected a divided government,” Ryan said. “But the difference is, this time we need to work.”
With Republicans making up the House majority and Democrats controlling the White House and Senate, Ryan said getting to work depends on finding common ground, which he said hinges on whether Democrats put a concrete proposal on the table.
“Hopefully the president will lead by putting out specific solutions that we can work from,” Ryan said.
He said pursuing nationwide tax reform and taking a “hard look” at entitlement programs is the best solution.