Will Ryan offer Obama a fresh start with House GOP?

Story highlights

  • White House and Paul Ryan have had a difficult past
  • But that relationship is changing as Ryan is poised to become speaker

Washington (CNN)Paul Ryan has admirers in an unlikely place: President Barack Obama's White House.

"I think we can make some real progress, particularly with Paul Ryan, who is a good guy, on working toward an accommodation on the budget and on keeping the government open," Vice President Joe Biden said this week in an interview with CBS News.
The Wisconsin Republican, who is on a glide path to becoming House speaker this week, hasn't always been so positively reviewed by the administration.
    When Ryan received an invitation from the White House in April 2011 to attend a fiscal address by Obama, he thought it was a good sign.
    "I was excited when we got invited to attend his speech," Ryan, then serving as the House Budget Committee chairman, said afterward. "I thought the president's invitation...was an olive branch."
    It wasn't an olive branch. With Ryan sitting in the front row, Obama excoriated the Republican lawmaker's budget plan, painting the document's proposed spending cuts as draconian slashes that would create a country "fundamentally different...than the one we've known."
    "I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic," Obama said of Ryan's blueprint, which Republicans had unveiled a week earlier.
    Sitting only feet away, Ryan shook his head angrily, scribbled notes on the president's attacks and bolted toward the door as soon as the speech concluded.
    It was an inauspicious start to the relationship between Obama and Ryan, who had been serving in the budget chairman post for only three months before the president's stinging public rebuke of his plan. The following year's presidential campaign that pit Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate, against the Obama-Biden ticket, didn't improve ties.
    But as he's poised to gain the speaker's gavel on Thursday, Ryan nonetheless appears to be enjoying early enthusiasm from the White House, which has long struggled to achieve any traction for its ideas among congressional Republicans.
    Biden, who battled Ryan in a prime time vice presidential debate in 2012, said he believed the Wisconsin Republican could help foster healthier ties between the White House and a Republican-led Congress.
    "This is a decent guy," he said. "And he knows this government can't function without reaching some consensus and he wants to do that."
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    Since the showdown in 2011 and the heated presidential contest, the White House has softened its tone on Ryan, often evoking his role in a 2013 budget negotiation as a model for successful fiscal talks. His willingness to enter into negotiations with Democrats on a budget -- after years of resistance from Republicans -- is seen by Obama's aides as a promising sign for other types of compromise.
    Earlier this year, the Obama administration relied upon the Wisconsin Republican to help push through authority to negotiate the president's massive trade deal with Asian nations -- an alliance Ryan acknowledged he may never have foretold during testier times.
    "I've done a lot of things in my career that I never envisioned in the future," he said in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash in June. "It doesn't bother me that the person I ran against in 2012 is the person I'm working with on this because it's the right thing for the country."
    As speaker, the pro-trade Ryan will be in a position to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership up for a final vote in the House — a proposition that's led to new White House optimism for the controversial deal's fate.
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    So, too, does the White House see Ryan as a more likely advocate for legislative immigration reform, even if the chances remain slim of any new laws passing while Obama is in office. Ryan said in the lead-up to his bid for speaker he would not attempt to bring up any type of comprehensive immigration reform during this session of Congress. But he has supported White House-backed features of immigration reform before, including a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants currently inside the United States.
    Democrats also express muted hopefulness that issues like highway funding, tax reform, and restoring elements of the Voting Rights Act could gain new traction when Ryan is elevated to speaker, which barring unexpected resistance from conservative Republicans will happen on Thursday.
    White House officials say they're still realistic about the chances of accomplishing with Ryan what they were unable to achieve during Rep. John Boehner's speakership. His views on health care and entitlement reform remain completely at odds with Obama's, and movement on key issues like gun control, for which Obama has pressed, are improbable. The conservative factions in the House that prevented Boehner from achieving much of anything with the White House have showed little signs of backing off when Ryan is handed the gavel.
    With those conservatives in mind, the White House has avoided offering much public praise for Ryan as support for him swelled among House Republicans. If conservative lawmakers regard their new Speaker as too closely aligned with Obama, his fate could look worse than Boehner's.
    But Obama's advisers do say Ryan's history brokering a successful budget deal have given Obama confidence in the new speaker -- even as he remains an adversary.
    "The President believes that Congressman Ryan is someone who has given considerable thought to the significant issues that must be worked through in Congress," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said last week. "We hope that whoever is the next Speaker assumes that role with a willingness and an interest to work with Democrats not just in Congress but also within the administration."