House Speaker Paul Ryan sought to explain Pennsylvania’s special election outcome – where a Democrat is poised to deliver a stunning upset to the GOP in a district Donald Trump handily won in 2016 – as a race between “two conservatives.”
Speaking to reporters at the weekly Republican leadership news conference Wednesday, Ryan defined Democrat Conor Lamb as a “pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservative” and noted that there wasn’t a Democratic primary that would have pulled Lamb to the left.
While the Wisconsin Republican argued Republicans need to focus on their legislative track record in Congress and avoid being outraised, he still said he doubts this will become a trend in Republican-leaning districts because there wasn’t a primary.
Lamb ran as a moderate eager to work across party lines. He said he supports abortion rights but personally opposes abortion – a position that matches Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee. And he called for expanded background checks but opposed other new gun restrictions.
But he also campaigned on a pro-union platform. He toed the Democratic line on health care, aired advertisements opposing Ryan-backed reforms to Medicare and Social Security, and hammered the Republican tax bill, arguing it would balloon the deficit and lead to cuts to entitlement programs.
Asked by CNN if this should also be “a wakeup call” to the President, Ryan argued that Trump helped make the race as close as it is.
“I think the President helped close this race,” he said, a reference to the campaigning Trump did in the district over the previous weekend. “I think you saw the public polling. The public polling wasn’t looking so good and the President came in and helped close this race and got it to where it is right now, which is within a few hundred votes.”
While he took a few questions on the race, Ryan appeared to grow tired of talking about Pennsylvania. As one reporter toward the end started to ask another question about the race, Ryan moved on to a different reporter. That reporter tried to get Ryan to answer the previous reporter’s question. There was some crosstalk and laughter, but ultimately Ryan never answered the question and took questions on an upcoming appropriations fight instead.
Republican leaders also touted the tax reform plan and sought to portray how taxpayers would be affected if Democrats took control and passed their own tax plan.