The bluntness of Ryan’s remark shocked even his fellow Republican, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who responded on Twitter: “We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem.”
The speaker clarified later in the day that his comment was limited to health care and that he was not foreclosing the possibility of bipartisanship altogether. But the exchange underscored that the gulf within the Republican Party is just not about policy, but about governing philosophy. Ryan’s vision of legislating has rarely included Democrats, which is one reason he worked so carefully to craft health-care and tax bills that could circumvent the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.
That strategy has always been iffy, however, because Republicans have barely enough votes to assemble a simple majority in the upper chamber, let alone a three-fifths supermajority. In the first three months of the new Congress, the Senate has not passed a single piece of significant legislation that was subject to a filibuster. Aside from confirming a couple dozen nominees to Trump’s Cabinet, all Republicans have been able to do is clear resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which by law need only 51 votes to pass.
And even those have been arduous. On Thursday morning, as Ryan was scoffing at the notion of bipartisanship, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia was casting his first vote in six weeks across the Capitol. Battling Parkinson’s disease and recovering from two back surgeries, he appeared on the Senate floor with the help of a walker and gave Republicans their 50th vote for a measure that would kill an Obama administration rule prohibiting states from blocking federal grants from going to Planned Parenthood. Two GOP senators supportive of Planned Parenthood, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had already voted no on the bill, and Vice President Mike Pence was waiting for Isakson so he could cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the resolution.