Obama and Ryan: Covert collaborators

Looking ahead to what the dynamic between them will be now, aides to the president and new speaker point to their collaboration on getting trade fast-track through Congress last summer as a model.

People in both offices note that the two leaders helped produce a bill with bipartisan support and tea-party opposition that the president eagerly signed. They’re a lot less eager to talk about what happened behind-the-scenes to get there: significant collaboration between the president’s staff in the West Wing and Ryan’s staff on the Ways and Means Committee, along with several direct phone calls the White House still won’t confirm between Obama and Ryan. Those calls were in part vote counting, in part strategizing about how to avoid looking like they were working together — even though they were.

Facing each other now as Ryan’s setting the tone for his speakership and Obama’s looking to wrap up his presidency is the latest stage in a long relationship between the two self-styled wonks. It began with a lovefest on stage when Obama visited the House GOP retreat before the 2010 midterms. It took a dive after Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 — proof to West Wingers at the time that they’d been silly to think he’d ever sacrifice his brand to work with them. And it’s been on a slow track back since.