WASHINGTON • United States House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will not seek re-election in November, ending a brief stint atop the House and signalling the peril that the Republican majority faces in the mid-term elections.
Mr Ryan said yesterday that he will serve until the end of this Congress in January next year, which will mark 20 years in Congress. He insisted he will be "leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe is a very bright future".
But his retirement, at the age of 48, is sure to kick off a succession battle for the leadership of the House Republican Conference, probably between the House majority leader, Mr Kevin McCarthy of California, and the House majority Whip, Mr Steve Scalise of Louisiana. And it could also trigger another wave of retirements among Republicans not eager to face angry voters in the autumn and taking their cue from Mr Ryan.
As if on cue, Representative Dennis Ross, Republican of Florida, announced his retirement an hour after Mr Ryan.
Mr Ryan's decision to quit caught many in the party by surprise. He had just hosted a donor retreat last week in Texas and most officials believed he would not leave until after November.
Explaining his decision to his Republican colleagues yesterday morning at a meeting in the Capitol, a subdued Mr Ryan said he wanted to spend more time with his children.
He pledged that he would help fellow Republicans extensively in the 2018 campaign and said he would continue raising money at a powerful pace, according to two lawmakers in the room.
Mr Ryan has become the party's most important fund-raiser in the House and Republicans have been counting on him to help them collect and spend tens of millions of dollars defending their majority this fall.
Growing emotional at points, Mr Ryan said family considerations weighed heavily on his retirement, explaining that his daughter was 13 when he became Speaker and he did not want to be a remote figure in her teenage years. "The truth is, it is easy for it to take over everything in your life and you can't just let that happen because there are other things in life that can be fleeting as well: Namely your time as a husband and a father," he told reporters.
But he has also been forced to answer for a constant stream of provocations and slights from President Donald Trump, and his retirement announcement was no exception.
Mr Ryan's departure has further endangered Republicans' already tenuous hold on Congress, creating open seats in states like New Jersey and California that Republicans will struggle to hold.
Republicans acknowledged yesterday morning that Mr Ryan's seat will be far more vulnerable without the Speaker on the ballot.
Mr Trump offered good wishes on Twitter ahead of a planned dinner with Republican congressional leaders at the White House yesterday.
Even though Mr Ryan vowed to keep fulfilling his political responsibilities, he will be a lame duck.
And with the filing period yet to pass in 19 states, it is now virtually impossible for him to convince other lawmakers that they must run again.
"This is the nightmare scenario," said former representative Thomas Davis, a Virginia Republican. "Everybody figured he'd just hang in there till after the election."