Paul Ryan's unusual 'family first' ultimatum for speakership

Rep. Paul Ryan has consented to be speaker of the House, but on several conditions. One is that fundraising won't trump family. 

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin casts his ballot as his wife, Janna, his son, Charlie, and his daughter, Liza, watch in Janesville, Wis., in this November 2012 photo.

[Update: This story was updated at 11:40 a.m.]

Score one for dads in America. Paul Ryan, the would-be speaker of the United States House, says one of his conditions for taking the demanding job is that he wants his weekends free to spend time with his young family.

On Tuesday evening, the Republican from Wisconsin – and former vice presidential candidate – laid out five conditions under which he would take a job he has said he does not want. 

One of them is that he must have the backing of all of the GOP caucuses, including the hard-line Freedom Caucus. It’s this rebellious right wing that’s driving out Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and that caused his would-be successor to drop out of the speaker’s race.

But Representative Ryan, who has been hounded by colleagues to take the job, has another demand. “I cannot and will not give up my family time,” he told reporters Tuesday evening.

The speaker’s job is notorious for its extracurricular requirements. Speaker Boehner was a prodigious fundraiser for Republicans, spending countless weekends on the job.

“This is a job where you are expected to be on the road about a hundred days a year,” Ryan said last month, in one of several protestations of disinterest. “Our kids are 10, 12 and 13, and I’m not going to do that.”

The congressman’s background has a lot to do with his commitment to work-life balance. When he was a teen, he lost his alcoholic father, a Republican lawyer, to an apparent heart attack. His mother had to work and he took up jobs as well. 

As a result, Ryan, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, puts a premium on family life and physical fitness. Around Capitol Hill, he’s known as a gym rat and does yoga, too. He abstains from hard liquor.

The congressman’s insistence on work-life balance also represents a generational shift among working men. Males are increasingly calling for paternity leave and more family time, according to a 2014 study by Boston College’s Center for Work & Family. 

Another study, by the Pew Research Center, suggests that fathers spent only 2.5 hours a week on child care in 1965. Today, that number has jumped to about seven hours.

"Stress and work life balance issues are just as challenging for fathers as they are for mothers," Kim Parker, associate director with Pew's Social and Demographic Trends Project, told US News & World Report. "We found that an equal share [of fathers] said they were having a hard time balancing work and family life as moms did."

The United States is the only developed country with no policy that provides guaranteed paid leave for family needs, though Americans do have access to unpaid leave through the Medical Leave Act of 1993. Republicans have blocked Democrats’ push for paid leave.  

It’s not yet clear whether the Freedom Caucus will back Ryan, who says he wants to know its answer by Friday.

“I don’t think speaker is a 9-to-5 job,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas, told reporters on Wednesday morning. He said he was “very concerned” about Ryan not working on weekends for a job that the Kansan described as “primarily fundraising.” Ryan planned to meet with the Freedom Caucus Wednesday afternoon. The Kansan is a member of that caucus.

But Ryan's supporters – including Speaker Boehner – say it’s possible to restructure the job to accommodate his family priorities.

“I think there’s a way to do that, and I frankly outlined over the last week or so a way that Paul could do this differently than the way I did,” the speaker said at his press conference Wednesday morning.

Ryan's request for quality family time might be difficult as his request for unity in today's Washington, some say. Writes Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's "Fix" blog:

While I commend Ryan for wanting to keep his family time protected, it's a totally unrealistic idea. Without John Boehner, the party's best congressional fundraiser by a mile, who exactly is going to fill the void for Ryan? Donors – especially the big ones – don't want to be asked for a giant check from the guy next to the guy. They want to be in a room with the speaker. Period.

However, if Ryan gets the post, it seems donors might indeed be asked for a check from "the guy next to the guy." And Ryan will be home with his family watching his beloved Packers – just as he was last weekend.

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