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Paul Ryan calls for conservative ‘unity’ after failed Obamacare repeal

As congress gears up for its last budget battle of Barack Obama’s presidency, House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wis.) is calling for “unity among conservatives.”

“If we don’t think the country’s headed in the right direction – and we don’t – then we have an obligation to give the people of this nation a better choice for a better way forward,” Ryan said in a speech at the Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit on Wednesday in Washington. “And that’s what House Republicans are going to do." 

The comments came the day after the House failed to override a presidential veto of a bill that would have repealed Obamacare and cut virtually all federal funds to Planned Parenthood. After Obama vetoed the measure Jan. 8, Republicans needed a two-thirds vote – 290 votes if every member were to participate – to override that veto. The vote failed, 241-186.

Matthew Woessner, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania - Harrisburg who worked with Ryan in 1994, said conservatives have become split among those who want to follow a general trend of liberalization of social issues, and those who want to keep what are often described as “traditional values.”

“The Republican Party has not come to a consensus yet as to whether it will maintain the traditional values message, or to abandon that message in favor of focusing on economic and constitutional questions,” Woessner told AMI Newswire.

The bill repealing Obamacare was amended to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, a major resource for women seeking abortions, in what appeared to be an overt nod to the Republicans’ more fundamentalist base.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was quick to seize on the vote, calling the move an “attack on women’s health.”

“Republicans’ self-declared ‘factory of new ideas’ is stuck in a miserable remake of Groundhog Day – and the women and working families of America aren’t laughing,” Pelosi said in a statement on Tuesday.

In his speech at Heritage Action, Ryan warned that the left was attempting to fragment the Republican base with distractions. “[Obama] is going to try to get us talking about guns, or some other hot-button issue, and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security,” he said. “He’s going to try to knock us off our game.”

To counter these tactics, Ryan said, Republicans should engage in a contest of ideas, instead of a personality contest.

For now, Woessner said that, although the House failed to garner the two-thirds vote needed to override the president’s veto, it nonetheless served as a good exercise for conservatives to take a shot at the “less desirable” portions of Obamacare. He told AMI he doubts a full repeal would be forthcoming, but that voters should expect similar measures to come forward if a Republican takes the White House.

“It’s not a bad exercise to engage in,” Woessner said. “If they have advanced a bill and come to grips with alternatives to Obamacare, [conservatives] will be in a stronger position to revisit that once they capture the presidency.”

For his part, the Ryan seem concerned that such votes might be a challenge to his vision of unity.

“When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House.” Ryan said. “We can’t do that anymore.”