WASHINGTON – House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Republicans on Wednesday to unify as he tried to steer his fractious party into an election year devoid of the collisions that transformed parts of 2015 into a GOP nightmare.
“We have to be straight with each other, and more importantly, we have to be straight with the American people,” Ryan, R-Wis., said at a Heritage Action for America policy meeting. “We can’t promise that we can repeal Obamacare when a guy with the last name Obama is president. All that does is set us up for failure and disappointment and recriminations.”
That conjured memories of the GOP’s unsuccessful 2013 effort – led in part by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – to force President Barack Obama to repeal his health care overhaul. That battle produced a 16-day partial government shutdown.
Ryan did not mention Cruz in his remarks. But he said he considers such tactics damaging.
“When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House,” Ryan said. “We can’t do that anymore.”
Ryan’s remarks followed a year of strife between congressional conservatives that led to the departure of the previous speaker, John Boehner. Ryan has stressed the need for GOP harmony while promising to listen to rank-and-file Republicans.
One sign of that outreach was choosing Heritage Action as a forum Wednesday. The group is one of Washington’s more politically aggressive conservative organizations.
“Rather than try to beat conservatives as Boehner did, Paul is trying to harness that energy in a positive direction,” said Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint.
Ryan said Obama will try helping elect a Democrat to the White House by distracting voters.
“So he’s going to try to get us talking about guns or some other hot-button issue and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security,” he said.
“Don’t take the bait,” Ryan said. “Don’t fight over tactics. And don’t impugn people’s motives.”
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