On April 27, House Speaker Paul Ryan participated in a town hall event entitled “Building a Confident America” at Georgetown University to address millennials. The event, held in Gaston Hall, covered issues such as the current election, tax reform, and President Barack Obama’s healthcare law in a Q&A period with Georgetown students.
The event, hosted by the Institute of Politics and Public Service at the McCourt School of Public Policy, drew over 500 audience members, including students, faculty, and guests to hear the Speaker elaborate on his conservative principles. During his opening speech, Ryan defended the Republican Party against those who might question it.
“The America we want is the America you want,” said Ryan. “It’s what I call a confident America.”
Ryan continued to explain that this “confident America” includes a more limited and transparent government, and necessitates the overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, the tax code, and the immigration system. The Speaker directed his comments at an audience mainly made up of millennials. He referred to the effects of growing up during the Great Recession and the idea that millennials may be the first generation worse off than their parents.
“[I grew up in a country where] if life threw you a curveball, you were able to get the support you needed,” said Ryan. “You grew up in the Great Recession. You saw how opportunity can disappear in a moment. So the question is how do we open up the opportunity to everybody in this country? As you might have heard, this is a matter of dispute.”
Ryan added that, despite this situation, it was up to millennials to decide the direction of the country, noting his belief that the government currently solves problems from the top-down instead of from the bottom-up.
As the Speaker transitioned into the Q&A period, he was joined by S.E. Cupp, conservative CNN contributor and Mo Elleithee, the executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. Both helped to moderate pre-screened questions from students on the stage behind the Speaker as well as questions from the audience and Twitter.
Most of the questions asked Ryan to defend or explain Republican policies, decisions, and the GOP itself. The Speaker kept to his theme of limiting government and cautioned against deep political divisions.
One student asked Ryan his opinion of the decision to take down Confederate flags at the Capitol Building in D.C. The audience gave the Speaker a round of applause for his support towards the choice.
“This [Confederate] symbol does more to divide this country than to unify this country,” said Ryan. “As a states’ rights person, [I believe] it’s up to the states to decide these things, but in the Capitol if we’re going to have a symbol, we’re going to have symbols that unify people and don’t divide people.”
A question from Twitter asked him why he had decided to reconsider his past statements that described poor people as “takers.” Ryan admitted that he had wrongly painted a broad swath of people with one brush and advised students to own up to mistakes.
Other questions were further skeptical of Ryan’s policies and focused on divisive issues between liberals and conservatives. A question about health care came from a student whose family had been insured by the Affordable Care Act. Ryan reiterated his belief that the system is too costly and ineffective and laid out his own ideas for insuring people with preexisting conditions. A question about climate change was met with Ryan’s response that scientific research into new technologies like clean coal was a better way to protect American productivity than federal carbon taxes or emissions limits.
One student asked how he could support Republican ideas, such as lower taxes and more limited government on the federal level when they are failing in states like Kansas and his home state of Arizona. After the student received applause, Ryan first emphasized that he believed those states were thriving, then pivoted back onto the topic of tax reform and the importance of individuals, not the government, making decisions for themselves.
“Just because [Republicans] believe in limited government doesn’t mean we believe in no government,” said Ryan.
Ryan, the chair of the Republican National Convention in July, was also asked for advice by a Republican student who said he does not support either of the likely Republican presidential nominees. Ryan affirmed his neutrality in the race, but told the student to look beyond the personalities of candidates.
“Look at the ideas, look at the platforms being advanced, look at the policies, not the person,” said Ryan. “Leaders need to say: ‘Here’s my principle, here’s my solution, and let’s try to do it in a way that’s inclusive, that’s optimistic, that’s aspirational, that’s focusing on solutions.’”
Although the Speaker reiterated throughout the event that he believed the country was going wrong in terms of government intervention, taxes, and opportunity, he underscored young people’s ability to set the country down the right path.
“Only ‘We the people’ can form a government,” said Ryan. “So today I am asking for your help.”
An error with regards to the event’s host has been corrected. The town hall was hosted by the Institute of Politics and Public Service at the McCourt School of Public Policy, not by the Lecture Fund.