Trump's tweets aren't Paul Ryan's kryptonite

House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses the US Congress
House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses the US Congress

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Story highlights

  • S.E. Cupp: Rumors of the demise of Paul Ryan's influence have been greatly exaggerated
  • Trump's happy to take credit but his tweets aren't as supernaturally powerful as they may seem, she writes

S.E. Cupp is the author of "Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity," co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right" and a columnist at the New York Daily News. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Donald Trump, either by design or default, sure got the headline he wanted on Tuesday. There it was, on CNN.com: "House Republicans pull plan to gut independent ethics panel after Trump tweets."

To the untrained eye, that sure makes it sounds like the President-elect, with a couple of tweets, forced the House to abandon its plan to put the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics under lawmaker control, a move that split the party and had just about everyone scratching their heads.
S.E. Cupp
And so began the pronouncements that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's influence was all but dead. What he can accomplish with a microphone or a gavel, so this hyperventilating went, was no match for what Trump could do with a tweet.
    But, as is often the case when it comes to covering Trump, there's more to the story.
    Since Trump was elected president in November, the potency of his tweets have taken on near supernatural powers, seemingly able to move planets -- or auto companies, North Korea and House Republicans -- with a single keystroke.
    It's an understandable -- and indeed compelling -- way to frame his unprecedented social media prowess.
    Yet consider the sequence of events in this case.
    In a late-night, closed-door meeting Monday, House Republicans vote 119-74 to accept a proposal to gut the independent ethics panel.
    A few hours later, Trump posts a pair of tweets that read: "With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it ... may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!"
    Then, word came that House Republicans scheduled an emergency meeting to pull the measure.
    It's hard not to see this as direct causation. As CNN reporters wrote:
    "President-elect Donald Trump dramatically strong-armed House Republicans into line Tuesday in his first Washington power play, after they voted to gut an ethics watchdog in a manner that undercut his vow to drain the establishment 'swamp.'"
    To be fair, it's a safe assumption that upon seeing Trump's tweet many of the amendment's supporters -- who are ironically also Trump supporters -- decided they would not fall on a sword to defend an optically imprudent proposal that the President-elect was not behind.
    But it's also just as reasonable to believe many of those same House members caved to public pressure as news of the perplexing legislation made its way through the press back to constituents who thought it a troubling first item of business for the new Congress.
    What is not reasonable, though, is the assertion that Republican leadership somehow caved to Trump. In fact, it's more likely the other way around, even if Trump himself doesn't know it.
    Ryan, as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, voiced their concerns with this measure Monday night in the closed-door meeting, sources in the speaker's office tell me. While most agreed the ethics watchdog panel was problematic -- it allegedly leaked stories to the press and forced lawmakers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars proving their innocence against anonymous tipsters -- leadership was outspoken that this amendment was the wrong way to go about reform. Alternative paths were proposed, but they were overwhelmingly denied by House members.
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    In reality, Paul Ryan was against this before Trump was. According to my sources, Ryan and Trump only spoke after the vote was resolved.
    But, be assured, Trump is certainly happy to take credit for the swift about-face. As for Paul Ryan and his waning influence, moments after House Republicans pulled the ethics plan he and Trump opposed, he was re-elected speaker of the House.