Speaker Paul Ryan Tours Europe as Outcome of Georgia Special Election Hangs in the Balance

Paul Ryan
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The “jungle primary” election to replace former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), now the secretary of Health and Human Services, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District will be held on Tuesday, but House Speaker Paul Ryan will not be in the country when the results are announced.

Instead, Ryan is in Europe, or on his way there, where he is leading a congressional delegation “with the goal of strengthening economic and security ties with our NATO partners,” according to this statement his office released last Wednesday:

Next week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will lead a bipartisan delegation traveling to key European ally nations, with the goal of strengthening economic and security ties with our NATO partners. In the United Kingdom, Norway, Poland, and Estonia, the delegation will meet with government officials and military leaders to review and discuss evolving security threats facing Europe as well as opportunities for greater economic cooperation.

Members joining the speaker are House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL).

While in the United Kingdom, the speaker will deliver remarks and take audience questions at an open press event. He will speak about the critical role that the United States and United Kingdom play in promoting regional and global stability, new opportunities for trade and economic partnerships, and the enduring importance of the special relationship between our two counties, particularly following the recent initiation of the Article 50 process.

Last Tuesday, when Republican Ron Estes won a narrow victory in the special election to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), now the CIA director, in Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District, Speaker Ryan was vacationing in Hollywood at Universal Studios.

Foreign travel by a speaker of the House is not unprecedented.

In 2011, for instance, former Speaker John Boehner led a congressional delegation on a tour of South America.

But the timing of Ryan’s forays beyond the domestic political arena seems unusual in light of the importance of these special elections in setting the tone early in the Trump administration.

The Republican leadership has been caught flat-footed by the huge financial resources provided to the Democrat challenger in Georgia, thirty-year-old Jon Ossoff, who, according to all polls, is leading the crowded field of 18 contenders in the jungle primary.

Five recent polls show Ossoff with between 41 percent and 45 percent of the vote, within striking distance of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

If Ossoff wins 50 percent-plus-one of the votes on Tuesday, he will win the seat outright.

If he falls below 50 percent, he will face the second-place finisher, certain to be a Republican, in a June runoff.

Nate Silver, writing at fivethirtyeight.com says the prospect of Ossoff “hit[ting] 50 percent of the vote and avert[ing] the runoff entirely… [is] unlikely but hardly [an] impossible scenario given the fairly high error margins of polls under these circumstances”:

Even if Ossoff finishes in the low 40s, it will be hard to rule him out in the second round provided that he still finishes in first place by a comfortable margin. But even if Ossoff finishes just a point or two shy of 50 percent, and Democrats finish with more votes than Republicans overall,3 he won’t have any guarantees in the runoff given that it’s a Republican-leaning district and that the GOP will have a chance to regroup. With the runoff not scheduled until June 20, there will be lots of time for speculation about what the first round meant — and a lot of it will be hot air.

Republicans in the Sixth Congressional District are hoping the outcome of the election Tuesday will not force them to deliver bad news in a transatlantic phone call to the traveling speaker.


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