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Speaker Ryan's "strange bedfellows" partnership with Trump

It's no secret that House Speaker Paul Ryan didn't want Donald Trump to be president. But Ryan tells 60 Minutes that's in the past and he plans to work with Trump to fix the country's problems

The following script is from “The Speaker of the House,” which aired on Dec. 4, 2016. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Robert Anderson and Aaron Weisz, producers.

For Donald Trump’s agenda to become reality it must pass through the office of the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Ryan didn’t want Trump to be president. The men threw ugly names at one another and Ryan refused to campaign for Trump. But elections have a way of proving that old adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. We spoke with Ryan on Thursday in his Capitol office about a partnership that may become the most scrutinized in Washington.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley

CBS News

Scott Pelley: How often are you speaking to the president-elect?

Paul Ryan: About every day.

Scott Pelley: Do you call him, or does he call you?

Paul Ryan: Both.

Scott Pelley: When you call over to the--

Paul Ryan: He answers his cell phone. I sh-- probably shouldn’t say that on TV. He just-- he just answers the phone.

Scott Pelley: You call Donald Trump on his cell phone?

Paul Ryan: All the time.

Scott Pelley: And how does he answer? What does he say?

Paul Ryan: He says, “Hi, hello.”

Scott Pelley: He doesn’t say, “This is the president-elect?”

Paul Ryan: No. He’s a pretty casual guy. He calls me Paul. I call him Mr. President-elect, because I just-- I have a reverence for the office. But yeah, he’s very casual about it.

Scott Pelley:  “Hey, this is Paul. And here’s-- here’s something I’m thinking about.”

Paul Ryan: Yeah, yeah. All the time.

Scott Pelley: How long do those conversations go on?

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Scott Pelley interviews Paul Ryan

CBS News

Paul Ryan: Twenty to 45 minutes.

Scott Pelley: Have you told him being president is not being CEO of the United States, that the Congress is going to have a say?

Paul Ryan: Oh, we’ve talked about that extensively. We’ve talked about the Constitution, Article I on the Constitution, the separation of powers. He feels very strongly, actually, that-- that, under President Obama’s watch, he stripped a lot of power away from the Constitution, away from the Legislative Branch of government. And we want to reset the balance of power, so that people and the Constitution are rightfully restored.

Scott Pelley: And that’s what Donald Trump believes? He believes in the separation of power? You don’t think he thinks he’s going to run this country the way he wants to?

Paul Ryan: No, I think he understands there’s a Constitution. And that those separate but equal branches of government give us a limited government. And he believes that.

Scott Pelley: You called Donald Trump a racist.

Paul Ryan: No, I didn’t. I said his comment was.

Scott Pelley: Uh-huh (affirm). Well, I’m not sure there’s a great deal of daylight between those two definitions. But he definitely called you ineffective and disloyal. Have you patched it up?

Paul Ryan: Yeah, we have. We’re fine. We’re not looking back. That’s behind us. We’re way beyond that. Now we’re talking about how do we fix this country’s problems.

Scott Pelley: You know, I’m curious, though. How did you patch it up? Who apologized to whom? How did that conversation go?

Paul Ryan: We went fine. It was pretty much the day after the election or maybe two days after the election. And we basically decided to let bygones be bygones. And let’s move forward and fix this country’s problems. And it was over and done with. And ever since then, we’ve had nothing but extremely productive conversations.

Paul Ryan has led the majority in the House just over a year. He took the job, reluctantly when his predecessor gave up on trying to pull the fractured party together. Ryan is 46, from Wisconsin and an expert on the budget.

Scott Pelley: What is the first bill you intend to pass?

Paul Ryan: Well, the first bill we’re going to be working on is our Obamacare legislation.

Scott Pelley: You’re going to repeal it first?

Paul Ryan: Yes.

Scott Pelley: You’re not pulling the rug out from under the 20 million people who already have--

Paul Ryan: No, no. We--

Scott Pelley: --Obamacare.

Paul Ryan: We want to make sure that we have a good transition period, so that people can get better coverage at a better price.

Scott Pelley: So what are we talking about? Months? Years?

Paul Ryan: I can’t give you an answer to that. We’re still working on that.

Scott Pelley: But people talked about three years in terms of a transition.

Paul Ryan: Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that right now. What we know is we have to make good on this promise. We have to bring relief as fast as possible to people who are struggling under Obamacare.

Scott Pelley: What do Republicans intend to put in its place?

Paul Ryan: Patient-centered healthcare that gets everybody access to affordable healthcare coverage. So they can buy what they what they want to buy.

Scott Pelley: So people will still get coverage regardless of their preexisting condition?

Paul Ryan: Yeah. We think preexisting conditions is a very important feature of any healthcare system.

Scott Pelley: Children will stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26?

Paul Ryan: Yeah, that’s something that we actually have always had in our plan, as well.

Scott Pelley: And women will pay the same as men? That didn’t used to be the case.

Paul Ryan: It depends on the age of a person. So we believe that we should have support based on age. The sicker and the older you get, the more support you ought to get. If you’re a person that has low income, you probably should have more assistance than a person with high income, for example.

Scott Pelley: Is your plan going to cover everyone in America?

Paul Ryan: We will give everyone access to affordable healthcare coverage.

Scott Pelley: In the first year, what else do you expect to get through the Congress?

Paul Ryan: We really want to focus on economic growth and growing the economy. There are a lot of regulations that are really just crushing jobs. Look at the coal miners in the Rust Belt that are getting out of work. Look at the-- look at the loggers and the timber workers and the paper mills in the West Coast. Look at the ranchers or farmers in the Midwest with regulations.

Scott Pelley: Are you talking about rolling back environmental regulations, safety regulations--

Paul Ryan: We’re talking about smarter regulations that actually help us grow jobs in this country. We want to have good stewardship and conversation of the environment and economic growth. We have a real economic growth problem in America. We are limping along. Wages are flat.  And jobs aren’t being created near to the extent that they could and should be.  So we think regulatory relief is very, very important.  And that’s something we’re going to work on day one.

Ryan told us that he can now support Trump’s changed positions on immigration from deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants to focusing on only those who’ve committed crimes and from building a 2,000-mile wall to something less.

Paul Ryan: No, we’re not working on a deportation force. Here’s what we’re working on with respect to immigration, securing our border, enforcing our current laws. He talked about criminal aliens. That’s just enforcing laws for people who came here illegally, who came and committed violent crimes. We should enforce those laws. But really, what we’re focused on is securing our border.

Scott Pelley: Well, Trump said he was going to build a wall.

Paul Ryan: Yeah, I think conditions on the ground determine what you need in a particular area. Some areas, you might need a wall. Some areas, you might need double fencing. I-- my own view on this is, whatever kind of device or barrier or policy to secure the border, that’s necessary to secure the border, then do it.

Scott Pelley: How big will the tax cut be for the middle class?

Paul Ryan: Well, again, we haven’t written this bill. But if you want to get a sense of what we’re looking at it’s virtually identical with the one that Donald Trump rolled out in the campaign. It means everyone gets lower tax rates. But we plug loopholes to pay for it.

Scott Pelley: But give me a number. What is the tax cut for the average middle-class family.

Paul Ryan: When I have a bill, I’ll tell you the number. Let’s do this again.

Scott Pelley: You’ve thought this through. You’ve been thinking it through for years. What would you like to see?

Paul Ryan: Yeah, so the tax rates that we talked about for individuals, we would have a 15 percent bracket, I think a 25 percent bracket, and a 33 percent bracket. We have seven brackets. We consolidate down to three. The other thing that’s really important in tax reform is making sure that we don’t tax American businesses at much higher tax rates than our foreign competitors tax theirs. It is costing us jobs. It’s one of the reasons all these American companies are moving overseas.

Scott Pelley: What should the corporate tax rate be?

Paul Ryan: Well, our plan says 20 percent. And Donald Trump’s plan says 15 percent. It’s now 35 percent.

Scott Pelley: Do you think the rich will benefit the most from your tax reform plan?

Paul Ryan: Here’s the point of our tax plan. Grow jobs. Get this economy growing. Raise wages. Simplify the tax system, so it’s easy to comply with.

Scott Pelley: You-- you’re a little shy, when I ask you about the rich receiving the greatest part of the--

Paul Ryan: Well, here’s the problem when you--

Scott Pelley: --of the tax cuts.

Paul Ryan: --when you ask these things. Most of that income is small-business income. You have to remember, eight out of 10 businesses in America, they file their business as individuals, as people. And so we think of that as the rich. But it’s that business in the-- in the business park outta Jamesville, Wisconsin, that has 50 employees. And do I want to lower their tax rates? You bet I do.

Scott Pelley:  Mr. Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure program.  What are you going to build, and how are you going to pay for it?

Paul Ryan:  Well, I think, that should be decided by the marketplace. That should be decided by the needs in the particular states and communities as to what is built or rebuilt. And it’s going to be one of our high priorities that we’re we are going to be addressing this year.

Scott Pelley: One of your high priorities that we heard almost nothing about during the campaign is poverty.

Paul Ryan: Actually, I’ve talked to him a lot about that. We feel very strongly about making work pay, about getting people transitioned from welfare to work. Get people skills they need, help they need, so they can get on the ladder of life.    

Ryan told us he has no plans to change Social Security but government health insurance, including Medicare, is a fire he says burning in the budget.

Paul Ryan: If you want to think of the fire that’s burning-- it is the fact that-- the Baby Boom generation, no offense, and there’s a lot of you.

Scott Pelley: I qualify.

Paul Ryan: Yeah, you qualify. And we’re just not ready for the retirement of the Baby Boomers. And we’d better prepare for that.

Scott Pelley: What changes do you plan for Medicare?

Paul Ryan: Here’s the problem. Medicare goes bankrupt in about 10 years. The trust fund runs out of money. So we have to make sure that we shore this program up. And the reforms that we’ve been talking about don’t change the benefit for anybody who is in or near retirement. My mom’s now enjoying Medicare. She’s already retired. She earned it. But for those of us, you know, the X-Generation on down, it won’t be there for us on its current path. So we have to bring reform to this program for the younger generation, so that it’s there for us when we retire, and so that we can keep cash flowing to current generations’ commitments. And the more we kick the can down the road, the more we delay, the worse it gets.

Scott Pelley: But you are going to kick the can down the road for the next year or two. This is not your top priority.

Paul Ryan: It’s not our t-- I haven’t even discussed this with Donald Trump yet. But it is an issue that we have to tackle.

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CBS News

From his balcony the speaker is watching the rise of Donald Trump’s inauguration platform. But, for Ryan, the best view in Washington isn’t a pretty sight.

Scott Pelley: You know, one thing I noticed during our interview inside was that every time you talked about the evils of Washington, you glanced out the window.

Paul Ryan:  I do, ‘cause that’s where all the bureaucracy’s are. Yea. Yea. Yea. That’s right.

Scott Pelley: You think of this town as part of the problem not part of the solution.

Paul Ryan:  Absolutely I do. If you look down, I can see HHS, Education, EPA. 

Scott Pelley: The two most prominent things on the skyline from this vantage point are the Washington Monument and the new Trump Hotel.

Paul Ryan:  That’s right.  That’s what I knew you were going to say. 

Scott Pelley: The new Trump Hotel.

Paul Ryan: That’s the new Trump Hotel.  Yeah he notic—he actually noted that when I took him up here.

Scott Pelley:  I bet he did, he probably told you what a great place it was.

Paul Ryan:  He said something like that.

Scott Pelley: Is that a reminder of who’s boss?

Paul Ryan:  The Washington Monument’s the tallest one.  And by the way, the dome, it’s a little higher.

Beneath the dome, Ryan will have a front row seat to Trump’s swearing in.

Scott Pelley: Did you believe he could be nominated? Really?

Paul Ryan: Yeah, no, I-- I didn’t see this one coming. He knows that. I don’t think most people in the country saw. If you would’ve put last year into a movie script and taken it to Hollywood two years ago, they would’ve laughed you outta the room. Because it wouldn’t have been believable.

Scott Pelley: Did you see Election Night coming?

Paul Ryan: No, not really. I think--

Scott Pelley: You expected Hillary Clinton to win?

Paul Ryan: I thought the odds were clearly in her favor. So I was a little surprised, pleasantly so.

Scott Pelley: Do you trust him?

Paul Ryan: Yeah. 

Scott Pelley:  Here’s something many people wonder. Does he say the same bizarre things to you in private that he says in public?  And it’s an important distinction—

Paul Ryan:  You know, I think there is a bit of a difference between the private person and the public person. In the private person, there’s a conversation like this. And it’s all about how to get things done. So every conversation I have almost always revolves around, you know, personnel and policy focused on producing results. 

Scott Pelley: Trump tweeted, in the last week or so, that he had actually won the popular vote, if you deduct the millions who voted illegally. Do you believe that?

Paul Ryan: I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.

Scott Pelley: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You have an opinion on whether millions of Americans voted illegally.

Paul Ryan: I have no way of backing that up. I have no knowledge of such things.

Scott Pelley: You don’t believe that—

Paul Ryan: But I don’t-- it doesn’t matter to me. He won the election.

But how, we asked, does he negotiate with a man whose word, or tweets, cannot always be believed?

Paul Ryan: Look, like I said, he’s going to-- the way I see the tweets you’re talking about, he’s basically giving voice to a lot of people who have felt that they were voiceless. He’s communicating with people in this country who’ve felt like they have not been listened to. He’s going to be an unconventional president. I really think we have a great opportunity in front of us to fix problems, produce results, and improve people’s lives. That’s why we’re here in the first place. And so that’s what’s going to matter at the end of the day. Did we improve people’s lives? Did we solve the problems that the American people need solved? Are we addressing the concerns of people who are tired of being tired? And who cares what he tweeted, you know, on some Thursday night, if we fix this country’s big problems? That’s just the way I look at this.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"