It was a brutal reminder that the Republican leader's willingness to play the role of a pathetic lackey to the White House has reached a point at which Ryan's reputation has become a cultural punch line.
And while the problem isn't entirely new, last week brought the issue to the fore in new ways. After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, for example, and leading lawmakers were sharing their perspective, Ryan remained silent for nearly a full day -- before eventually endorsing the president's abuse. By Friday, the House Speaker seemed eager to walk a fine line in which he was supportive of Trump though not responsible for Trump.
"I'm focusing on what's in my control, and that is what is Congress doing to solve people's problems," Ryan said at an event in Delavan, Wisconsin, according to CNN. [...]
"I'm working on making sure that we make good on our promises and fix people's problems," Ryan said, according to CNN. "That's what's in my control, and that's what I'm focused on."
He is, after all, the Speaker of the House, and it's within his "control" to defend the rule of law, support an independent investigation of Trump's alleged misdeeds, and conduct vigorous oversight in the face of serious White House abuses. And yet, Ryan prefers to take a pass.
A year ago, hoping to make a media splash, Ryan used his powerful office to call on intelligence agencies to deny Hillary Clinton access to classified information, ostensibly because of his deep concerns about her email protocols from years earlier. At the time, the Speaker's "focus" wasn't on what he could "control," so much as it was on scoring cheap points.
Now, however, he's abandoned the pretense, providing cover for his party's president. The emperor has no clothes, but he does have a House Speaker who'll carry a fig leaf.
The New Republic's Brian Beutler had a great piece along these lines:
Should Ryan rediscover that the House he leads can investigate and appropriate in ways that force the executive branch to surface important information, there would be nothing extraordinary about it. The House has been doing that for centuries. What Ryan has done is surrender his own fundamental powers to Trump, knowing that people he likes and respects are telling reporters that Trump's presence in the White House terrifies them.
Republicans know that, one way or another, this could end horrifically. They know they will be complicit if it does. And they're abetting Trump anyway.