WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly announced Wednesday he will retire rather than seek another term in Congress as the steady if reluctant wingman for President Donald Trump, sending new ripples of uncertainty through a Washington already on edge and a Republican Party bracing for a rough election year.
The Wisconsin Republican cast the decision to end his 20-year career as a personal one — he doesn't want his children growing up with a "weekend dad" — but it will create a vacuum at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. It will leave congressional Republicans without a measured voice to talk Trump away from what some see as damaging impulses, and it will rob Trump of an influential steward to shepherd his more ambitious ideas into legislation.
It's unusual for a House speaker, third in line to succeed the president, to turn himself into a lame duck, especially so for Ryan, a once-rising GOP star who is only 48 and was the party's vice presidential candidate in 2012. His decision fueled fresh doubts about the party's ability to fend off a Democratic wave, fed by opposition to Trump, in November. And it threw the House into a leadership battle that could end up pushing Ryan aside sooner than he intended and crush any hopes for significant legislation before the election.
Ryan, though, said he had no regrets after having accomplished "a heckuva lot" during his time in a job he never really wanted. He said fellow Republicans have plenty of achievements to run on this fall, including the tax cuts Congress delivered, which have been his personal cause and the centerpiece of his small-government agenda, even though they helped skyrocket projected annual deficits toward $1 trillion.
"I have given this job everything I have," Ryan said.
Speculation over Ryan's future had been swirling for months, but as he dialed up colleagues and spoke by phone with Trump early Wednesday, the news stunned even top allies.
Ryan announced his plans at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina said an emotional Ryan "choked up a few times trying to get through" his remarks and received three standing ovations.
He later briefly thanked Trump in public for giving him the chance to move GOP ideas ahead.
While Ryan was crucial in getting the tax cuts passed, a prime Trump goal, he and the president have had a difficult relationship. Trump showed impatience with Congress' pace in dealing with his proposals, and Ryan had to deal with a president who shared little of his interest in policy detail.
Still, for many Republicans, it's unclear who will be left in leadership to counterbalance Trump. Ryan has been "a steady force in contrast to the president's more mercurial tone," said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. "That's needed."
The speaker had been heading toward this decision since late last year, said a person familiar with his thinking, but as recently as February he had considered running for another term. His own father died suddenly of a heart attack when he was 16, and though Ryan is in good health, the distance from his family weighed on him. A final decision was made over the two-week congressional recess, which he partly spent on a family vacation in the Czech Republic.
Ryan, from Janesville, Wisconsin, was first elected to Congress in 1998. Along with Reps. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, he branded himself a rising "Young Gun" in an aging party, a new breed of hard-charging Republican ready to shrink the size of government.
He was GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.
Ryan was pulled into the leadership job by the sudden retirement in 2015 of Speaker John Boehner, who had struggled to control the chamber's restless conservative wing. He has had more trust with the hardliners in the House.
"That's probably his greatest gift to us," said Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. "His ability to bridge the vast divide."
House Majority Leader McCarthy, a Californian known to be tighter with Trump, is expected to again seek the top leadership post that slipped from his reach in 2015. He will likely compete with Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Both men spoke at the closed-door meeting Wednesday, delivering tributes to Ryan, and both attended a GOP leadership dinner Wednesday night with Trump at the White House.
Another potential rival, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, demurred when asked if he'd pursue the speaker's job. "Leadership has never been on my bucket list, and it's not on my bucket list today," he said.
Ryan's announcement came as Republicans are bracing for a potential blue wave of voter enthusiasm for Democrats, who need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats in November to regain the majority.
As the House GOP's top fundraiser, Ryan's lame-duck status could send shockwaves through donor circles that are relying on his leadership at the helm of the House majority. He has hauled in $54 million so far this election cycle.
"It injects some more uncertainty to be sure," said the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.
SIOUX CITY -- A regional center in Sioux City that monitors mental health patients has found itself caught in the middle of a contentious breakup between Woodbury County and the two remaining counties in the Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services agency.
The Assessment and Stabilization Center, commonly known as the Crisis Center for short, is managed by Siouxland Mental Health Center for Sioux Rivers, which was formed by Woodbury, Plymouth and Sioux counties in 2014 after the state switched from county to regional delivery of services for low-income individuals.
Since early 2016, the three counties have shared operational costs of the center at 4038 Division St., which offers short-term observation or longer-term housing in a secure setting for patients whose conditions don't warrant hospitalization.
But Woodbury County plans to leave Sioux Rivers effective July 1. Officials in Plymouth and Sioux counties contend Sioux Rivers would retain ownership of the crisis center, under terms of an agreement each of the three counties signed.
Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, who serves on the Sioux Rivers governing board, acknowledges the exit clause in the 28-E agreement but argues it doesn't apply in this case because the state has not yet approved Sioux Rivers as a two-county region.
Because of the same requirement for mental health regions, Woodbury County has applied for a state exemption to operate as its own agency for the budget year that begins July 1. That would allow Woodbury time to transition to the seven-county Rolling Hills Community Service Region, beginning on July 1, 2019.
Taylor argues a two-county Sioux Rivers also would not have sufficient funding to operate the Crisis Center, which costs an estimated $972,000 per year.
Don Kass, chairman of the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors and a Sioux Rivers governance board member, dismissed that argument, saying Wednesday Sioux Rivers is prepared to run the center without Woodbury County.
Kass noted the 28-E agreement "clearly states that if a county leaves a region, all physical property stays within the region."
Taylor "can cry all he wants, but that was in the (sharing) contract, and Jeremy knows that," Kass said.
Taylor pointed out just 8 percent of the center's patients are from Plymouth or Sioux counties. Once Woodbury exits the region, he said Sioux Rivers is counting on revenue from the $413 per day that Woodbury County would be required to reimburse Sioux River for each patient treated at the center.
Sheila Martin, executive director of Siouxland Mental Health Center, said she wants the Crisis Center under Woodbury County's control in 2018-19.
"This asset should remain with Woodbury County because over 95 percent of the patients utilizing the Assessment and Stabilization Center are from Woodbury County," Martin said.
"We are appreciative of the support of our Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in advocating for us. Siouxland Mental Health Center supports the move to Rolling Hills Region and looks forward to a greater level of transparency and good governance with Rolling Hills."
Taylor said Plymouth and Sioux officials have not even offered to reimburse Woodbury County for the nearly $296,570 in taxpayer funds it has invested in the Crisis Center building.
"Woodbury County has made overtures to fairly buy-out, engage in mediation or discuss the disposition of the crisis center," Taylor said.
In a meeting with The Journal's editorial board last week, Taylor said the dispute over the Crisis Center may need to be resolved by Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven. The director is scheduled to visit Sioux City and Le Mars Friday as part of the department's review of Woodbury County's application to form its own mental health services region.
While there are uncertainties with how mental health services will be delivered to Woodbury County residents in the next year, Taylor said he expects plans to go smoothly and encouraged patients and their families not to worry. Others have criticized the murky future in Woodbury County, saying it is misguided to exit Sioux Rivers and also potentially leaving clients in the lurch.
Doubling down on his criticism of Sioux Rivers officials, Taylor said it is "absolutely" true that agency leaders are sowing seeds of dissension in trying to make Woodbury County residents worried about services after the July 1 breakup.
"The thing is that Woodbury County comes with a lot of ridiculous political squabbles, but we have done everything we can to deal with it in a good-faith manner," said Kass, who, like Taylor, is a Republican.
Taylor countered that Woodbury's pending departure "isn't about politics or petty personal problems."
"Woodbury County had a troubled relationship in Sioux Rivers because of poor governance and management...and a culture of negativity, as reported by (service) providers," Taylor said.
Connie Barrett, a Woodbury County employee who works for Sioux Rivers, said the breakup of the three-county region could result in a negative impact on services that would last for years. Barrett has attended multiple Woodbury County Supervisors meetings in the last several months to speak in the public forum portions of meetings to share her concerns.
Barrett, an advocate for 20 years for people with mental illness who have a court order to receive services, said services are working well and she worries about the uncertainties in what people being served might see in a few months.
"I am not being negative about about Rolling Hills. In the long-run, I don't know it is going to help...We may spend more money over there and have less services," Barrett said.
Sioux Rivers is directing $5.9 million in funds to agencies in the three counties in 2017-18. According to a financial summary, $4.3 million goes to providers in Woodbury County, which is by far the biggest county in the group, and roughly $800,000 each go to agencies in Plymouth and Sioux counties.
Another statistic shows Woodbury County this year pays 63 percent of revenues to Sioux Rivers, while entities in the county receive 73 percent of the funding.
Kass said the only services that could be cut in the next year within Sioux Rivers are those that are not so-called core services, or those required by the state.
SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Community School District will hold two more meetings Thursday as district officials share details on crisis planning toward the goal of keeping students safe at school.
The public sessions will be held "to highlight what roles district administrators have in a crisis and to also help parents understand their role in response to a crisis," according to a news release from the district.
The first meeting was held Tuesday at North High School. Additional meetings are set for 4 p.m. Thursday at West High School, followed by a 7 p.m. session at East High School.
During Monday's school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Gausman said the meetings would air important information, while some key details on responses to crisis situations won't be shared, so as not to give out some particulars for security reasons.
Gausman said he is gratified to work in some of the crisis planning details with Chad Sheehan, a retired Sioux City policeman who specializes in training schools and others on responding to active shooter situations.
Much of the district's information about crisis planning is on its website, Gausman said, so people can prepare themselves prior to coming to Thurday's meetings.
"In this meeting, you will learn how staff and students are trained for crisis, what precautions we take to try and prevent crisis, and the everyday safety practices currently in place," the news release said.
The meetings come in an era of frequent school shootings, including one in February in Florida in which 17 people were killed. Gausman at the time said front-end measures designed by schools help prevent violent incidents.
A police officer, also known as a resource officer, is stationed at each of the six Sioux City public high schools and middle schools.
In planning an appropriate response to possible danger, mock drills for various possible incidents take place during the year and some drills are planned in concert with the Sioux City Police Department, Sioux City Fire Rescue and Woodbury County Sheriff's Office. Each school also completes safety drills to help students prepare for potential crisis.
If a crisis scenario were to occur, Gausman said in a high-level threat, local law enforcement officials would lead the situation management.
URBANDALE, Iowa -- Former Northwest Iowan Sam Clovis says he harbors no ill will after his nomination to a federal agriculture department job was withdrawn amid news reports that his name surfaced in the special counsel investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I’m not bitter about that. I’m not resentful,” Clovis said Wednesday morning while speaking to Westside Conservatives Club, a suburban Des Moines group.
The public remarks are believed to be Clovis’ first in Iowa since the dust-up over his nomination late last year. Clovis, a former Morningside College economics professor and Sioux City radio talk show host, was a prominent member of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. After Trump's inauguration in January 2016, Clovis was appointed as a White House aide to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Republican president later nominated Clovis to the USDA's chief scientist job.
Just as Senate Republicans were preparing to hold a hearing on Clovis’ nomination , his name surfaced in the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. That investigation revealed that Clovis, a former conservative radio host, economics professor and U.S. Senate candidate from northwest Iowa, had communicated with George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has since pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his attempts to connect the campaign with Russian officials in 2016. As part of the investigation, Clovis testified before a grand jury.
On Nov. 2, shortly after the news of his involvement broke, Clovis withdrew his name from consideration for the chief scientist post.
Clovis said Wednesday he feels partisan politics caused the incident, but that he holds no ill feelings over it. He has continued to work as a policy adviser at the USDA, a job that does not require Senate confirmation.
“I think there were a lot of people that felt a lot worse about that than I did. I know what’s going on and the politics there. I thought it might be a long shot,” Clovis told reporters after his remarks to the conservative group. “When I found out I probably wasn’t going to get a floor vote, I said, ‘That’s it. I’m fine. I’ve got a job to do and I’ll go back and do it.’ And I have been ...
“I think it was more about the president than it was about me. Because I was a very visible, very strong advocate for the president. And I think a lot of people took exception to that. So it was a chance to put a barb in him. I just happened to be the guy.”
Democrats and some scientific and agricultural groups had also raised concerns with Clovis’ nomination, citing his lack of scientific credentials. Clovis has an advanced degree in economics, but does not have agricultural science education or experience.
“Sam Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination as chief scientist is a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate ag committee, said at the time. “From Day 1 it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers. His lack of qualifications and long history of politically divisive statements were disqualifying, and the recent news surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign has raised even more questions.”
During Wednesday's event, Clovis, a 2014 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, also discussed the impact a budding trade war between the U.S. and China has on Iowa agriculture.
The Trump administration has imposed $50 billion in new trade taxes and proposed $150 billion more. China has responded by adding a tariff on pork, one of Iowa’s top livestock, and proposed tariffs on soybeans, one of Iowa’s top crops.
Iowa farmers say they are already feeling the financial pinch of that.
Clovis said he understands the concern, but asked for patience and expressed his confidence that Trump and senior administration officials ultimately will negotiate a trade deal that is better for Iowa farmers.
“I think people need to be calm. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But I think they also need to be patient because (Trump) is not going to sell the country down the river,” Clovis told the conservative group. “I have confidence in the president ... These people will get us through this, and we’re going to be better off coming out of it. I just know we will. Agriculture will make it. We’re going to make it.”
Trump has instructed federal ag secretary Sonny Perdue to develop a plan to protect farmers from any financial harm as a result of trade imbalance or negotiations. Clovis said he could not discuss specific plans, but said a potential example would be how the federal government provides funding for natural disaster relief. He noted such funding also would require Congressional approval.