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As he exits, Paul Ryan's ideas didn't match up to reality and party politics

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting July 24, 2018.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan, who delivers his farewell address today at 1:00 pm ET, always had big ideas. He called for the government to respond to the growing deficit/debt; he advocated for a fundamental restructuring of Medicare and entitlements; he pushed for tax reform; and he demanded an improvement in the nation’s political discourse. “We shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm,” he said in his March 2016 speech during the heat of the GOP presidential race.

But those ideas — except for tax reform — never really matched up to reality and party politics. The debt and deficit he saw a “crisis” to reduce? Well, it’s gone up in the Trump years when Ryan was speaker and the GOP controlled government. Major entitlement reform? Hasn’t happened. Improving political discourse? Hello, President Trump.

Ryan’s defenders say it’s difficult to continue to tackle the deficit/debt when the other players — especially the White House — aren’t interested. No one, they say, is capable of reining in the president and his rhetoric. And every speaker, they argue, is bound to the realities of what Congress and the political system can produce. But they also point out Ryan’s achievements over the last two years: overhauling the tax code; sanctioning Russia, Iran and North Korea; reforming the VA; passing legislation combating opioids; and increasing military spending.

But what Ryan didn’t achieve and where his past rhetoric fell short underscore the difference of being an ideas person (like his idol Jack Kemp was) versus a party leader (like speaker of the House). They also speak to how the Republican Party of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s — emphasizing limited government and personality responsibility and morality — has changed in the Trump Era.

Ryan’s retirement signals how Trump’s wing of the party defeated Ryan’s wing.

Congress works to craft temporary spending bill through February to avoid a shutdown

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Alex Moe, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters last night “we’re working” on drafting a continuing resolution (CR) until early February but that “ultimately it’s up to the leader.” Why punt until early February? Shelby said to give the “new Democratic House time to organize, to get settled in a little bit.”

Thorp and Moe add that both House and Senate Democrats are indicating they would not oppose a CR until early February, two Democratic sources tell NBC News. So with congressional Democrats seemingly onboard, the biggest question now is would President Donald Trump sign another CR if it passes both chambers and avert a government shutdown Friday. He has said in the past he did not want to sign additional continuing resolutions.

Senate passes criminal justice reform bill

NBC’s Rebecca Shabad and Phil Helsel: “The Senate passed a huge criminal law reform bill on Tuesday night, seizing on bipartisan support for the broadest set of changes to federal crime statutes in a generation. A rare coalition of conservatives, liberals, activists, prosecutors and defense attorneys — spanning the political spectrum — pushed senators to pass the “First Step Act” by a final vote of 87-12.”

“The House is expected to take up the Senate version of the bill at a later date. The House passed a similar version of the bill back in May by a wide margin, 360-59. President Donald Trump announced in November that he backs the legislation.”

Trump Foundation to dissolve after pressure from New York’s attorney general

“The Trump Foundation — the charitable foundation started by President Donald Trump years before he became a presidential candidate, which New York's top prosecutor said exhibited a ‘shocking pattern of illegality’ — will dissolve under pressure from the state's attorney general, according to a court filing,” per NBC’s Tom Winter, Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker. “The foundation will give away its assets to other non-profit organizations in the next 30 days, according to an agreement between state prosecutors and the Trump Foundation, according to an agreement reached between New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and the Trump Foundation.”

Importantly: “It does not stop the lawsuit the AG’s office has filed against the foundation, which was formed in 1987, and that action will continue.”

Republicans gamble on appointing McSally to the Senate

It’s never happened before that a defeated Senate candidate was immediately appointed to chamber to serve alongside the elected senator that beat him/her. But here we are: On Tuesday, per NBC’s Ben Kamisar, Arizona Gov. Steve Ducey appointed Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. John McCain (by way of Jon Kyl, who filled the seat for three months after McCain’s death).

And, of course, McSally lost to incoming Democratic Sen. Kirsten Sinema last month, 50 percent to 48 percent.

Ducey and the GOP are definitely taking a gamble on McSally, who will have several challenges to confront as she tries to keep the seat in GOP hands in 2020:

  • Prove herself to Arizona voters after 50 percent voted for someone else;
  • Protect herself from a credible primary challenge from the right;
  • Navigate being a Republican in the Trump Era;
  • And prepare for a top contest from the Democrats in November 2020, when the electorate won’t be fundamentally different from what we saw last November.

Then again, who was going to be a better candidate for Republicans? McSally, after all, is an outgoing GOP congresswoman; her military service made history; and she’s run in plenty of tough races before.

The questions we have: Who are the Democrats going to find to run against her? And can the Dems avoid a primary like Sinema was able to in 2018?

Add Michael Bennet to the Dem 2020 list?

Yahoo’s Jon Ward: “Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., confirmed in an interview Tuesday that he is considering a run for president. ‘I am thinking about it,’ Bennet said in an interview for the Yahoo News podcast ‘The Long Game.’”

“Bennet has reportedly been talking to staff in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucus there and would join the enormous field of Democrats likely to seek the nomination in 2020, which is more than 30 names long.”