WASHINGTON - House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., told colleagues Wednesday that he will not seek reelection this year, ending a nearly 20-year tenure in Congress and adding further uncertainty about whether embattled Republicans can maintain control of the House.
"The speaker is proud of all that has been accomplished and is ready to devote more of his time to being a husband and a father," said Brendan Buck, counselor to Ryan, adding that Ryan plans to serve out his term and retire in January.
The decision comes ahead of mid-term elections that were already looking treacherous for Republicans, who risk losing control of the House.
The party has seen a large number of retirements, and Ryan's exit is certain to sap morale as Republicans seek to contain a surge in enthusiasm from Democrats, whose fortunes have been buoyed by the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.
Shortly before Ryan was scheduled to hold a news conference announcing his retirement, Trump tweeted that Ryan is "a truly good man and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question."
Applause could be heard outside Ryan's office shortly before 9 a.m. as he was meeting with staff. He shared the news with GOP lawmakers in a closed door meeting shortly afterward.
"He is not running for reelection," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. "He has had an outstanding legacy as a conservative policy thought leader and will be successful in any future endeavor."
The two Republicans most likely to replace Ryan are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Calif., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, La.
Ryan, 48, was the vice presidential nominee in 2012 on the GOP ticket with Mitt Romney.
He had long championed tax reform, a goal accomplished with the passage last year of the sweeping GOP tax bill.
Ryan was elected by his colleagues in 2015 to replace John Boehner as speaker following Boehner's retirement.
He has represented Wisconsin's 1st congressional district since 1999. Ryan was previously chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and before that chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The news of Ryan's retirement was first reported by Axios.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said Ryan's family factored heavily in to the decision.
"He's got young kids, and I don't think people realize how hard my job is and look at his job, which must be five times more time consuming," Grothman said.
If he sticks to this plan, Ryan will become the first speaker since Democrat Tip O'Neill in 1986 to announce his retirement so far in advance. Some of Ryan's close friends believe this may be a mistake on his part.
Just two weeks ago Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader and longtime Ryan friend, predicted the speaker would serve out his term, run for reelection and then decide his future in November.
To do otherwise, Cantor told The Washington Post in an interview, would be to "abdicate" power and send a signal that Republicans had no chance of keeping the majority.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., defended the timing of Ryan's announcement, saying, "It's an honest timing of an honest man."
"He didn't want to imply that he was running for reelection when he knew he wouldn't be staying," Issa said. "And I think his honesty should be refreshing for everybody."
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., called Ryan "a good man who is always true to his word."
"Even though we disagreed on most issues, in the areas where we could work together I always found him to be smart, thoughtful, and straightforward," Schumer said.
Schumer urged Ryan, in his remaining time, "to break free from the hard-right factions of his caucus that have kept Congress from getting real things done."
Other Democrats were quick to pounce on Ryan's decision on Wednesday.
"Speaker Ryan sees what is coming in November, and is calling it quits rather than standing behind a House Republican agenda to increase healthcare costs for middle class families while slashing Social Security and Medicare to pay for his handouts to the richest and largest corporations," said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.