McCain-Ravenel Center
Leadership & Ethics Program

A Covid-19 Conversation With Former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan

In a special conversation with Episcopal students and faculty today, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan delivered an upbeat assessment of the global battle against the novel coronavirus while urging students to maintain social distancing to protect the vulnerable and help bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We all have a mutual obligation to one another — in our communities, in our societies, in our country, and in our world — to reduce our interactions and to try to get through this and try to bend the curve,” he said.

Ryan — who has three children with his wife, Janna, including Liza ’20 — said he recognized that social distancing measures and “stay at home” orders are hard on teenagers and particularly high school seniors like Episcopal’s Class of 2020. But he urged EHS students to stay the course. “You are among the brightest kids in this country, and you have an amazing future in front of you,” he said. “And you have a very important role to play right now in your family’s life, in your community’s life, to make sure we get through this thing faster, sooner rather than later.”

Ryan spoke from his home to an online gathering of the EHS student body, programming run in conjunction with the School’s new McCain-Ravenel Center for Intellectual and Moral Courage, which is deepening integration of Washington resources into the EHS curriculum. Head Monitor Elijah Gaines ’20 introduced the longtime Wisconsin politician, describing him as a “dynamic, smart, humble, committed public servant.” Most of the discussion with students and faculty focused on the Covid-19 crisis, with the former speaker offering views that he is sharing with Capitol Hill lawmakers, business leaders, and others.

Ryan, who spent 20 years in the House and led its chief economic policy committees, was a key player in Capitol Hill negotiations over the government’s response to the Great Recession of 2007-09. He applauded the $2.2 trillion stimulus plan recently passed by Congress, saying such “massive” spending is needed to counter an unprecedented economic situation.

“We have never voluntarily shut down the entire U.S. economy — or the global economy for that matter — before,” he said, adding that the government’s injection of funds should help keep businesses and families solvent so that the economy can restart when the pandemic ends.

Ryan also talked about his career in public service. While studying economics and political science at Miami University of Ohio, he came to Capitol Hill as a college intern and learned, he said, that “if you apply yourself, you can make a huge difference in our society and our democracy.” In 1998, when he first won his seat in Congress from his home state of Wisconsin, he was 28, the second youngest member of the House.

“I decided to run for office,” he said, “because I just thought it was really gratifying to take ideas, articulate them, fight for them, pass a law, and see it make a real positive difference in people’s lives.”

Watch a few of Ryan's comments: