It was just a month ago that a leaked video of Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent led House Speaker Paul Ryan to say he would not defend the Republican presidential nominee or campaign with him.
In the closing weeks of the election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had all but disappeared from public view, saying at one point last month, “I don’t have any observations to make” about the presidential race.
What a difference winning an election makes.
On Wednesday, the two top congressional Republicans moved quickly to mend fences with the new president-elect and make the case that Trump will sign their policy agendas into law.
At a press conference in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., Ryan congratulated Trump and called his surprise election victory “the most incredible political feat” Ryan had seen in his lifetime.
“We talked about the work ahead of us,” said Ryan. “And the importance of bringing this country together.”
It wasn’t just the Access Hollywood video that had drawn Ryan’s rebuke over the past year. Among their various points of disagreement, Ryan criticized Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration into the U.S., called Trump’s criticism of a federal judge of Mexican descent “racist” and denounced Trump’s feud with the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in Iraq.
Trump in turn lashed out at Ryan for being a “disloyal” Republican, called him a “very weak and ineffective leader” and flirted with endorsing Ryan’s primary opponent.
As the scale of Trump’s Electoral College victory became apparent Wednesday morning, Ryan focused on reconciling with Trump and credited the president-elect with minimizing losses for congressional Republicans.
“Look at it this way,” said Ryan. “Donald Trump provided the kind of coattails that got a lot of people over the finish line so that we could maintain our strong House and Senate majorities.”
Reporters reminded Ryan of his tense history with Trump and asked whether he considered his relationship with the president-elect, along with the conservative faction in the House, intact.
Ryan cleared his throat and said, “I think our relationship is fine.”
McConnell, who has also disagreed with Trump’s views on immigration and the tone he set in his campaign, issued a statement saying Trump’s election was “clearly an indication the American people would like to try something new.”
“We would like to see the country go in a different direction and intend to work with [Trump] to change courses … to change the course for America.”
Although Trump’s victory was presented as an overthrow of America’s political establishment, McConnell said it was “noteworthy” that just one or two incumbent Senate Republicans were defeated (final results are still not available in the New Hampshire Senate race).
“When people were voting for change, they didn’t decide they wanted to change the Republican Senate,” said McConnell.