One of the more unusual reactions to President Obama’s new measures on gun policy came from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). For example, the congressional leader condemned an “executive order” from the White House that doesn’t exist.
But more important was this quote in reference to the president: “His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”
It’s hard not to get the impression that Ryan seems intimidated by the wrong things. Is the Republican leader alarmed by the routinization of deadly mass-shootings? No, what Paul Ryan finds intimidating is presidential rhetoric about background checks. What an odd thing to say.
Part of the problem for the House Speaker is that he may not be fully on board with his own talking points. The Huffington Post had a good catch earlier this week.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) criticized President Barack Obama on Monday for planning to use his executive authority to implement gun control measures.But take Obama out of the equation, and Ryan is just fine with tighter background checks on gun sales – the very thing Obama is expected to focus on – and with a president taking executive actions on major policy issues.
As recently as 2013, the Wisconsin lawmaker told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel efforts to close the so-called gun-show loophole are “reasonable” and “obvious.” Ryan added that the issue arose on Capitol Hill shortly after his first election. “At the time I remember thinking, ‘You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that,’” he said.
This week, however, the GOP leader said, “There is no loophole…. This is a distraction.”
Keep in mind, that interview isn’t from some point in the distant past. It was the year before, in 2012, that Ryan was on his party’s national ticket as the Republican vice presidential nominee.
It’s tempting to think there’s a nuanced explanation here – perhaps the Speaker supports legislative reforms, rather than administrative actions through the executive branch – but the fact remains that in 2013 he believed the loopholes existed, and in 2016, he’s suddenly no longer able to see what he once saw. Ryan believed it was possible to take responsible steps to close those loopholes, and now he sees rhetoric about the issue is “a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”
Why does this matter? Because Ryan’s posturing is more than just an example of a politician’s incoherence.
There’s still all kinds of talk about the White House reaching out to Congress and trying to work on reducing gun violence by striking deals with lawmakers. But we can take the top lawmaker on Capitol Hill – the Speaker of the House, second in the line of succession – as a perfect example of why Obama has no choice but to pursue executive actions.
Read all of the above quotes from Ryan again and tell me how in the world the president is supposed to work in good faith with the Speaker on this issue?