Janna Little Ryan, Paul Ryan’s Wife, Is a Liberal Democrat-Truth! & Fiction!

Janna Little Ryan, Paul Ryan’s Wife, Is a Liberal Democrat-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
It’s been reported that Janna Little Ryan, the wife of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), is a liberal Democrat who has soften Ryan’s conservative views and eroded his support for Donald Trump.
The Truth:
It’s true that Janna Little Ryan comes from a prominent Democratic family, and that she championed liberal causes in college.
But today Janna Little Ryan is described as a “practical conservative.” And data suggests that Paul Ryan has actually grown more conservative during his time in Congress — not less.
Most of the background information about Janna Little Ryan in this rumor was taken from an article that appeared at Heavy under the headline, “Janna Ryan, Paul’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” The report pulled together bits and pieces about Little Ryan’s family, political and professional background from other media reports.
Most of these details came from a New York Times article on the Ryans that was published in 2012, shortly after Mitt Romney tapped Ryan as his running mate on the GOP ticket. The story, which appeared under the headlined, “For the Ryan’s, a Union Across Political Lines,” that begins:

Their union was not necessarily one that friends and family saw coming. She was from a prominent Democratic family and dabbled in liberal causes during her college years at Wellesley, even once taking a road trip to Washington to march for women’s rights. And he, an up-and-coming Republican congressman, had worked after-school jobs to help support his family as a teenager and was known for his deeply conservative views.

So, on the surface, it was surprising when Janna Little, a socially popular lobbyist on Capitol Hill, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who had been dating aerobics instructors at his gym, hit it off after he asked for an introduction. They met at a party, started dating and were married in the winter of 2000.

And reports describing Janna Little Ryan’s family as “Democratic royalty” from Oklahoma can usually be traced back to a 2012 ABC News report:

Janna Ryan’s family has strong ties to Oklahoma politics. Her mother was appointed by the governor as a founding member of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the Oklahoma Council of Campaign Compliance and Ethical Standards, according to her obituary.

Her grandfather, Reuel W. Little, helped found a third party – the American Party – in Oklahoma during the 1968 presidential race so to help former Alabama Gov. George Wallace get on the state’s presidential ballot, according to The Oklahoman.

Reuel Little ran for governor in 1970 but received only 4 percent of the vote. Four years later after his failed bid, Little’s son-in-law David Boren waged a successful bid for the governor’s mansion.

More recently, as Paul Ryan has become an outspoken critic of Donald Trump and all but pulled his endorsement of the GOP candidate, rumors have swirled that Janna Little Ryan is actually calling the shots behind closed doors and making her husband less conservative. These reports selectively cite facts about her background that fit that narrative — but other details, like this one from the New York Times profile, are intentionally left out:

Friends say Mrs. Ryan chose her political life’s path with a sense of purpose, and they describe her as being a “practical conservative” these days, even if she might once have been more of a Democrat.

And questions about Ryan’s brand of conservative have been raised ever since he was named House speaker in 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that although Ryan was “the most conservative House speaker in generation” as measured using a congressional rating system, he was not “conservative enough” for some in the party:

Ryan has taken a pragmatic tack in voting to keep the government going and avert shutdowns and crippling standoffs over the vast policy gulf between the parties. That approach puts him at odds with some more militant Republicans.

Nevertheless, his voting history in the U.S. House places him to the right of current Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, according to the leading academic ratings of congressional voting pioneered by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal.

That history also puts Ryan to the right of the three previous GOP speakers of the postwar era: Dennis Hastert (speaker from 1999 to 2007), Newt Gingrich (1995-’99) and Joseph Martin (1953-’55).

The notion that Ryan isn’t conservative is “absolutely insane,” says Keith Poole, the University of Georgia professor and a creator of the rankings. His data suggests that if anything, Ryan has grown a bit more conservative during his 17 years in the House.

But because House Republicans have shifted so much to the right during his career, Ryan’s conservative ranking in his caucus is a little lower than it used to be. In Ryan’s first two years in office, he ranked as the 18th most conservative member of the House, according to the ratings. But he ranked as the 51st most conservative Republican in the last Congress (2013-’14).

So, one prominent political scientist evaluating Ryan’s voting record concluded that Ryan has actually grown more conservative over his 17 years in Congress — the issue, it appears, is that the GOP has grown even more conservative than Ryan has.
In the end, it’s true that Janna Little Ryan comes from a prominent Democratic family and championed liberal causes in college. More recently, however, she’s been described as a “practical conservative.” And claims that Ryan has grown less conservative over time appear to be false. That’s why we’re calling this one truth and fiction.