House Speaker Paul Ryan is dismissing conservative criticism of the $1.1 trillion spending bill that Congress passed on Friday, saying that Republican leaders “fought for as much as we could get” in the compromise legislation.
“We advanced our priorities and principles. Not every single one of them, but many of them. And then we’re going to pick up next year and pick up where we left off and keep going for more,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview on Meet the Press.
The deal, which keeps government agencies funded through next fall, cuts taxes and lifts the ban on crude oil exports, received the votes of 150 Republicans in the House, a level of support seldom seen by Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner.
Conservative media personalities like Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham blasted the deal, saying that Ryan failed to leverage the must-pass spending bill to nix funding for Planned Parenthood or limit the entry of Syrian refugees.
Ryan said that he does not pay attention to such attacks, and he noted that Congress is using other legislative vehicles to address both issues.
“No matter what you do in this job you’re going to get criticized,” he said. “The question is are you focusing on your goals? Are you keeping your principles intact? Are you advancing ideas that make a difference in people’s lives?”
The newly-minted House Speaker also urged both parties’ political leaders to work anew to unify the country with a positive message, while calling President Barack Obama “one of the most polarizing presidents we have ever had.”
He said that his 2012 presidential running mate, Mitt Romney, would have done more to bring the country together than the current president.
“I know Mitt very well. I think he would have done everything he could. I think he would have labored to not polarize. To try and unify,” Ryan added. “Leaders can unify and leaders can polarize.”
Ryan acknowledged that both Republicans and Democrats engage in divisive political tactics, although he defended his own party’s moves in Congress - such as working to dismantle the president’s signature health care law - as an effort to improve Americans’ daily lives.
“I think we get out of this cycle but being positive, by offering a vision, by offering solutions and focusing on what they do to make people’s lives better,” he said. “And to appeal to what unifies us as a country, as a people. We should not play identity politics as conservatives or as liberals, which is a political tactic that aims at speaking to people in ways that divide them from one another.”
The Wisconsin lawmaker also reiterated his criticism of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, saying that religious freedom is a “fundamental right” in America.
But he also said he was not concerned about the GOP nominating process, despite Trump’s steady increase in the polls.
“I believe that this nomination process is going to be healthy,” he said. “I trust the Republican primary voter to pick a nominee that can take us all the way to win the White House so we can fix this country.”
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com