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House Speaker Paul Ryan Outlines Republican Plan To Fight Poverty


Outside a community shelter in Washington, DC's, historically black Anacostia neighborhood this morning, a group of House Republicans led by Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled a new anti-poverty plan.


PAUL RYAN: This is how you create opportunity. This is how you help people move onward and upward.

SIEGEL: But Ryan's efforts to expand the Republican Party were undercut by Donald Trump. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis joins us now to discuss this tug-of-war. And Sue, today Paul Ryan wanted to talk about poverty. How did Donald Trump become the focus of the event?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: So today was supposed to be the focus of a kickoff of a three-week roll-out for House Republicans on their 2016 campaign agenda. It's the policies they say that they will work to sign into law if they can get a Republican elected to the White House this November.

But instead, you know, Republicans across the capital are under pressure this week to address Trump's comment that the judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University is biased because of his Mexican heritage and should recuse himself from the case.

So instead of questions about combating poverty, Speaker Paul Ryan was asked repeatedly about Trump's comments. This is a example of what he had to say.


RYAN: Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.

DAVIS: Robert, we should say that Paul Ryan made those comments this morning. This afternoon, Donald Trump issued a statement. He didn't really apologize directly for his remarks, but he did say they were misconstrued as an attack on people of Mexican heritage. But he did not back away from his concerns that this particular judge is biased against him in the case.

SIEGEL: Is that the general Republican response to Trump - that no matter how controversial he may be, he's still better for them than Hillary Clinton?

DAVIS: Yes. And Ryan, among most Republicans on the Hill, has relied on that message throughout this presidential campaign. When he's been at odds with Trump, their argument is essentially this - that a Republican in the White House, whoever it may be, will allow Republicans in Congress to put forward more conservative legislation on the things that they care about, from combating poverty to overhauling the tax code.

The Speaker today reiterated that he still believes Trump would be a better partner than Clinton to pass those kinds of proposals that a House led by him would try to send to him. But we should say he's not the only one. He's not - not all Republicans feel that way. Republican Illinois Senator Mark Kirk from Illinois today took back his endorsement of Trump and said he will no longer support him for president.

SIEGEL: To what extent are Trump's comments or his general unpredictability drowning out whatever else House Republicans would actually want to campaign about this year?

DAVIS: You know, we have seen this play out time and time again in this election. But the conversation in the campaign has put Republicans under pressure to take a position on whatever Trump's position may be. And Ryan candidly acknowledged today that this is a problem for them and for House Republicans' ability to break through to voters with this agenda.


RYAN: I do think these kinds of comments undercut these things, and I'm not going to even pretend to defend them. I'm going to defend our ideas. I'm going to defend our agenda. What matters to us most is our principles and the policies that come from those principles.

DAVIS: What House Republicans hope this agenda project will do for them is to create some daylight between them and Trump on some of his more controversial positions and give them something to campaign on on their own terms. But it's very hard. As you well know, in a presidential election year, it's hard for anyone but the two candidates to set the terms of the debate.

SIEGEL: I want you to talk a bit about the Republicans choosing poverty as the first issue to address in their campaign agenda. Is there a sense that they could actually pick off voters from the Democrats by doing that?

DAVIS: This is a pet cause for Paul Ryan. He has tried to make the Republican Party refocus on this issue. But you know, it's going to be very difficult in this particular election year to make inroads into areas like the inner cities. But he has said that he thinks the Republican Party can't give up. And it's part of a longer-term effort to expand the tent.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Sue David, congressional correspondent reporter talking to us from Capitol Hill. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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