Ryan practicing his 'poker face' for State of the Union

Story highlights

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to reporters ahead of Tuesday's night's State of the Union address
  • He said he was practicing his 'poker face' since he sits behind the President
  • He called the President a partisan 'demagogue' backing progressive policy and failing to take on big challenges for political reasons

(CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan says he is preparing for President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address by practicing his "poker face."

By tradition, the House Speaker sits right behind the President, next to Vice President Joe Biden. Ryan is used to sitting on the House floor, where he could freely react. Not anymore.
"I express myself. I'm an Irish guy, that's what we do," joked Ryan, who said his wife Janna warned him against doing so.
    In a wide-ranging breakfast meeting with television news reporters and anchors, Ryan said he expects the President to "lay a lot of verbal traps for us" in Tuesday night's address.
    Ryan predicted that the President will use his final State of the Union to help Hillary Clinton, because the Obama legacy depends on a new president continuing his ideals.
    "For his legacy to be secure, he has to have a successor from his own party, and from his wing of his own party. Hillary fits the bill. So what is he going to do? My assumption is he will do everything he can to bait us into fights with him to try to make us look like we're angry reactionaries incapable of winning the Electoral College," Ryan said.
    The House Speaker said at the end of the day, he believes Obama is nothing more than a liberal demagogue.
    "I'm sure he'll have a nice glossy rendition of the last seven years," Ryan said, adding, "He never took on this threat of debt. He never proposed to balance the budget. He demagogued us and he never proposed to actually get this debt under control."
    Ryan, a longtime proponent of reforming entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security -- changes some Republicans dismissed as too drastic -- criticized the President for not dealing with the issues he says will bankrupt the country if not addressed.
    "He had an enormous problem facing this country that he chose to ignore. Now I think he chose to ignore it for ideological reasons more than anything else," Ryan said.
    Ryan's predecessor John Boehner had a complicated relationship with the President. They tried, and failed, to negotiate a so-called "grand bargain," in 2011, which resulted in trust issues for years.
    Ryan did not hold out much hope for getting much done with Obama in the next year.
    "We disagree on so much," Ryan said.
    "I don't think of him as an enemy. I think ideologues, partisans on both sides, think of each other as enemies. Our enemies are the people who plant roadside bombs against our soldiers, or shoot up our boardrooms and community college. That's our enemy. I just think that he is just a dogmatic ideologue who very much believes in what he is doing and is pretty much opposite of what we believe," Ryan said flatly.
    "The ideology I subscribe to is the one that founded the country -- that built the Constitution. So I do believe that he is taking us away from the Constitution, away from founding principles, away from natural rights," Ryan said.
    "It is going to be hard to see us getting a lot done when he wants to go so far left," he said.

    Donald Trump

    Ryan tried to stay away from what he called being "baited" into a discussion of the 2016 presidential election, noting that he only denounced Donald Trump for his call for a temporary ban on Muslims because he felt the need to "stand up for conservatism."
    Ryan acknowledged Trump could be bringing more people into the Republican Party.
    "You've got to give him credit for that," he said.
    But when asked later by CNN's Jake Tapper about Trump's plan for a deportation force to go door to door and round up Latinos, Ryan let out an audible groan.
    "I don't know who's going to win the darn nomination, I really don't," he said, but was emphatic that the 2016 presidential race must be about ideas, and not personalities.
    "Republicans lose personality contests every time," Ryan said. "But Republicans win ideas contests."

    The Republican Party

    Ryan has clearly used his own experience as Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012 to think a lot about what it takes for the GOP to win nationally.
    "What I learned -- if you're starting to have that conversation in late summer/early fall, it's too late. The cake is baked and the trajectory is kind of locked, so we have to start early," he said.
    Ryan argued that the GOP must not just be the "opposition party" but the "proposition party."
    He said that the GOP must start laying out broad and big ideas now, so that the party has a mandate to win.
    "We have to give the country a choice," Ryan said.
    As for the very real, at times raw anger among conservative grassroots voters at the GOP in Washington, Ryan insisted that is more pronounced by the primary season, and that in the end Republicans will unite.
    "There's been a real political currency to attacking the establishment as it's being defined," Ryan said.
    "I do believe that when we get through the primary season we will have unification of the conservative movement and our party," he continued.
    "Most people on our side of the aisle are concerned about another progressive presidency."

    ISIS Fight

    Ryan said he does believe Congress has a role in passing a new Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) for fighting ISIS, adding it is the President's responsibility.
    "He's supposed to present Congress with a plan to defeat ISIS. We're sort of waiting for that," Ryan said.
    "Not to pass the buck, but the commander in chief is the one who is supposed to execute foreign policy. It's the commander in chief's job to come up with a plan to execute our foreign policy. We're not supposed to have 435 generals coming up with our strategy. We have opinions but that's his job."