WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) who is expected to be elected the next Speaker of the House, is a free-trade advocate who industry groups believe could provide a path forward for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
House Republicans nominated Ryan to become the next speaker on Wednesday. A full House vote on his nomination is expected on Thursday.
If elected, Ryan, who is chairman of the House Ways & Means committee, will take the gavel at a time of uncertainty and turmoil in the House GOP conference. Current Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who is set to step down on Friday, left a leadership void last month when he announced he would be resigning. That set in motion a contest for the top perch in the House that has already seen one leading contender, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), back out of the race under pressure from conservative Republicans.
Ryan is seen as the best possible consensus candidate to fill the void.
It is still unclear who would replace Ryan in the powerful post as Ways & Means chairman and whether McCarthy will hold onto his position as Majority Leader. Leading contenders for Ways & Means chairman include Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Fla.) and Pat Tiberi (R., Ohio), according to industry officials.
The key question for most observers is whether Ryan will be a unifying force in the Republican conference, which has seen its share of internal warfare over the past several months.
“Paul is a great lawmaker,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation. “He’s in this for all the right reasons. He works hard, he’s smart, he’s policy-focused, he’s a very good communicator and he really wants to drive forward a strong economy. The broader question is can anybody, even somebody as dynamic and skilled as Paul Ryan, make the House conference work efficiently. That is the question we are still waiting on.”
French said NRF believes Ryan is a “great choice” for speaker.
“One of our top goals is tax reform,” French said. “That is one of the reasons why Paul Ryan was reluctant to run as speaker. He really wanted to do tax reform and had been putting in place at Ways & Means a lot of pieces necessary to move tax reform forward.”
On trade, Ryan is welcome news for fashion industry groups eager to see Congress pass TPP, a trade deal encompassing 40 percent of the worlds’ gross domestic product, aiming to tear down barriers between the 12 countries. The 12 nations involved in the agreement, which was recently forged, are the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand.
Pundits have speculated when Congress will vote on TPP, likely sometime next year.
“Moving from the chair of the House Ways & Means to speaker, he understands the importance of trade,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “Ryan has been supportive of open markets and trade. Obviously, his leadership was essential to get Trade Promotion Authority and other trade legislation like the [African Growth & Opportunity Act] extension through the House this summer…Ryan took very seriously and worked very hard for trade legislation. and it is always important and very positive to have a supporter of trade as speaker.”
Hun Quach, vice president for international trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said Ryan has “proven himself to be a strong leader for the free trade movement.”
“He sheperded TPA legislation, along with extensions of both controversial and non- controversial trade bills, through Congress this year,” she added. “He did quite well. I think that bodes well for TPP legislation whenever Congress decides to take it up.”
Ryan is said to have voted for several trade deals including the Central American Free Trade agreement and bilateral deals with Columbia, Panama and South Korea. But his stance on TPP is still unknown. He has said publicly that he wants to review the text and details of the deal thoroughly.
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association said the group has worked closely with Ryan for years and expects him to be an “excellent” speaker.
Lamar said he expects Ryan to be as strong a leader on trade as his predecessor Boehner was on the issues.
“I think a great example [of that] was his work on TPA,” Lamar added. “It is a great indication of his ability to balance the interests of the diverse conference members to reach across the aisle and to reach across the Hill because you need to work with the upper body, as well. He’s really demonstrated over his tenure that he understands the issues and he knows how to get things down on a bipartisan basis. He can produce. He will be very effective.”