By David Wise

House Speaker Paul Ryan Friday called immigration a “thing to celebrate” as he bemoaned the president’s vulgar comments about Haiti and African nations as “very unfortunate, unhelpful.”

Still, Ryan sidestepped when asked how Congress could finalize an immigration deal with Trump reportedly making the comments, saying only: “We just have to get it done.”

“I read those comments later last night and the first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful,” Ryan told a event in Milwaukee before talking about his family coming to the U.S. from Ireland.

The event were Ryan’s first public comments on the president’s remarks, which have been condemned by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson Friday called on Trump to apologize for the “totally inappropriate” remarks, according to a transcript of an interview with Wisconsin Public Television that his office provided.

Trump Thursday during a meeting with congressional leaders reportedly questioned why the U.S. should protect immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to national media reports.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump was reported as saying to the lawmakers.

Via Twitter, Trump denied making derogatory comments.

But Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said the “the best thing” Trump can do “is just admit it and apologize for it and move on.”

“When you enter the public realm, I don’t care what your past was, I don’t know what kind of salty language he might have used, you stop doing it,” he said. “You have a certain responsibility, a certain decorum you have to conduct yourself in public with.”

Ryan says Congress unlikely to tackle entitlement reform this year

During the event, Ryan also said Congress is unlikely to take up changes to major entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security in 2018, citing a lack of bipartisan consensus on the issue.

“It’s more of a wishlist of mine, but I don’t see us tackling it this year,” the Janesville Republican said.

Because Congress can’t use budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority vote, to enact such changes, bipartisan support will be needed to get enough votes, Ryan said.

“No matter what you do, you’re going to have to find bipartisan consensus to fix these thorny, long-term problems,” Ryan said. “And we don’t have that right now.”

But Ryan stressed the importance of making changes to the programs so they remain available for future generations.

“Medicare and Social Security are the two most important programs, arguably, we’ve got,” Ryan said. “They’re going bankrupt.”

With tax and regulatory overhauls accomplished in 2018, Ryan said the next big focus to boost the economy will be on the workforce.

Ryan said that involves looking at how to close skill and opportunity gaps, and getting people coming out of prison rehabilitated and into the workforce.

“That to us is going to be our biggest priority,” Ryan said. “And that means to me is that if we close this skills gap, and reverse this brain drain that we have, we’re going to do such a better job of getting people into great lives, into great careers and the economy will grow even faster as a result.

On other topics:

— Ryan predicted the tax reforms signed into law shortly before the new year will grow in popularity and help Republicans as they face possible headwinds in the midterm elections.

Ryan said that stands in contrast to Dems with the Affordable Care Act, which they thought was going to be “wildly popular” only to see it play into a GOP wave that swept the country in 2010. He said Dems made a mistake by opposing the GOP tax bill, believing “this is our Obamacare.”

“This law, once people actually realize what it actually does do, is popular,” Ryan said, adding that pundits have slammed the law for “falsehoods that don’t exist.”

“So that now that you see what it actually does, the story just gets better,” Ryan said. “You’re going to see more jobs, more investment, higher take-home pay, lower taxes for people, and that is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

— Ryan said while he believes that is a good thing for Republicans to run on, history shows a newly elected president’s party tends to face losses in the first midterm after inauguration.

“We have to buck history, and we know that we have a challenge ahead of us to do that,” Ryan said. “The reason I feel confident and comfortable is we ran on a set of ideas, we’re now implementing and executing those ideas and policies, and the results are proving themselves.”

— Ryan said a short-term fix is in the works to prevent a government shutdown.

Stressing problems with military readiness due to funding issues, Ryan said a long-term solution is needed to fund the government, but there is not enough time to draft and pass legislation before the January 19 deadline.

“I think we will get a down payment on some of these problems … and keep working to get the rest of it done,” Ryan said.

— Ryan called reports he would retire after his win on his longtime goal of tax reform “bogus speculation.”

“There are other things to do than just tax reform,” Ryan said.

He said he and his wife have a conversation every spring in election years about what to do going forward.

“And this year is no different than any other year,” Ryan said.

Pressed for a firm answer, Ryan quipped, “Do you think I’m not going to talk to my wife and give you the answer?”

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