How Trump is helping Ryan keep his job as House speaker

Donald Trump meets with Ryan, McConnell on Capitol Hill
Donald Trump meets with Ryan, McConnell on Capitol Hill

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    Donald Trump meets with Ryan, McConnell on Capitol Hill

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Donald Trump meets with Ryan, McConnell on Capitol Hill 02:14

Story highlights

  • Paul Ryan could lose 20 votes on the floor and still be elected speaker
  • House Freedom Caucus members also want to focus on helping Trump

Washington (CNN)Paul Ryan's speakership seems safe -- and Donald Trump may deserve some of the credit.

On Trump's coattails, House Republicans stemmed their losses Tuesday -- and will hold at least 238 votes next Congress. That means Ryan could lose 20 votes on the floor and still be elected speaker -- a large number of defections that GOP sources said is highly unlikely.
    But that's not all that's helping Ryan. The House Freedom Caucus, the outside group of agitators who helped drive out John Boehner from the speakership, seems reluctant to mount a challenge against the speaker, with some members saying they want to focus on helping Trump instead.
    Plus Ryan -- who angered Trump supporters in his conference when he said last month he couldn't defend his party's nominee -- seems to have calmed down Trump backers by his late embrace of the billionaire in the final days of the campaign. He enthusiastically welcomed the President-elect to his office Thursday and held a photo op with cameras capturing him pointing out Washington landmarks from his majestic balcony outside his Capitol office overlooking the National Mall. The speaker's office also had a camera there and posted video on Ryan's Facebook page highlighting the first meeting of the two leaders since the election.
    But what has calmed down conservatives the most? Winning the election on all levels of government. And Ryan allies say the speaker deserves praise for the GOP success down-ticket given his relentless fundraising and campaigning for House candidates.
    House Republicans will vote Tuesday in a secret ballot election on whether Ryan will get a second term as speaker.
    Ryan, in his first interview since Trump's election, said Thursday on Fox News, that he is confident that he won't be challenged -- and heaped praise on the President-elect.
    He called the businessman's win "one of the most impressive political feats I have seen in my lifetime. It's an amazing thing. And so Donald Trump deserves all that credit."
    In an election season filled with stunning developments, this is another unusual moment. The House speaker, who had been critical over his party's nominee and often went to lengths to avoid discussing him, now is in a more secure spot in his conference because of Trump's election.
    Ryan only lost 10 votes on the floor of the House when he was first elected speaker last year. One of those votes was Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, who said whether there will be a challenge to the speaker depends on what happens in the post-election, lame-duck session of Congress. Yet he offered cautious praise for the speaker.
    "If the lame-duck gets even more lame beyond a $600 billion deficit with something like the Export-Import Bank -- or any more barn cleaning -- then our blood pressure goes up," Brat, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told CNN Friday. "Speaker Ryan made very promising comments that Trump saw and heard things from the American people that we have all missed. So it's incumbent on him to name exactly what that is."
    Throughout the campaign season, Ryan struggled with Trump as the nominee. He sharply criticized Trump's plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States, and said he would speak out against Trump when he believed conservatism was being "disfigured."
    He initially declined to endorse Trump in the spring. But even after he did formally back Trump, Ryan lashed the GOP nominee for making "racist" comments about a Mexican-American judge. And things blew up after Ryan privately told his colleagues he could no longer defend Trump after the release of the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape in October where the billionaire is caught talking lewdly and sexually aggressively about groping women. For weeks, Ryan said little about Trump, declining to say anything publicly about him after the final two presidential debate.
    That approach changed during the last push in the campaign season. Ryan began preaching GOP unity, appeared on stage with Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, and he even offered to campaign with Trump in Wisconsin -- despite saying privately a month before he wouldn't do so.
    Beyond the Freedom Caucus members who have sparred with Ryan in the past, the other group of members who could complicate his future are the group of House Republicans who rallied around Trump. But multiple members in that camp tell CNN that Ryan's post-election news conference and public comments Thursday have made it clear he's on the same page with Trump now. They believe the President-elect will need the Wisconsin Republican's expertise to pass key agenda items.
    One of these members told CNN that Ryan was "giddy" on a post-election conference call with House Republicans, laying out the list of conservative bills he could now pass because a Republican won the White House and the party is keeping control of both chambers of Congress.
    New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, said on CNN that Ryan's re-election next week was a "slam dunk." He said he spoke to both Trump and Ryan and offered to act as a liaison on Capitol Hill to help get key legislation passed.
    The culmination of the Ryan-Trump relationship came Thursday, as the two toured the speaker's office and had what both sides had a productive meeting. And aides went to lengths to downplay their past disputes. Even the speaker, sitting next to the President-elect at his conference table, pulled a phrase from Trump's stump speech to tout their new partnership.
    "We're going to hit the ground running to make sure that we can get this country turned around and make America great again," Ryan told reporters.