By Tim Mak
Just halfway through Rep. Paul Ryan's frenetic morning schedule -- 6:00 a.m., wake up in his office; 6:30: workout in the members-only House gym; 8:15: coffee and an interview; 8:30: a steering committee meeting -- and his routine is already blown.
The Wisconsin congressman who represents "America's Dairyland," a state that produces 3.17 billion gallons of milk a year, realizes he has no cream.
"We're out," Ryan says after a brisk walk from the gym to his office. He turns to a reporter and photographer shadowing him. "You guys want to go? I need cream for coffee."
He's soon hustling down the stairs towards the Longworth Office Building cafeteria.
"I don't like to get staff to do stuff for me," he says, explaining why the House Budget Committee chairman and former Republican vice-presidential nominee is fetching his own dairy products.
Before long, Ryan is chattering about immigration reform, ticking off talking points as he half-jogs down the hall. He mentions the economy 19 times in the next 15 minutes.
The United States needs more labor to grow faster, he says, and in a post-9/11 world, the border needs to be secured.
"We have an interior security problem that isn't, that isn't right," he says as he bursts into the cafeteria. "Do they have cream? They don't have little cream packets, do they? I'll just buy a thing."
Ryan grabs a disposable cup, fills a third of it with cream, snatches a yogurt parfait, and heads for the register.
Back at his office, he makes his own coffee.
"Sorry, you've got me in the middle of my routine," he says, sheepishly. "Don't mean to be strange, but a guy's gotta, you know, start his day."
The secret is out. Last week, Ryan was the lead story on the Drudge Report under the headline "Dems pin immigration hopes on GOP's Ryan." He's not a fan. He doesn't want to be seen as the guy who's eager to cooperate with Democrats just to get an immigration deal done.
"The headline was strange," he said.
In the article, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., called Ryan his "guiding light' on immigration reform.
"Yeah, right," Ryan responds dismissively, before adding, "Well, he takes a lot of guidance from us, because we say what we can do and what we can't do."
Ryan sees himself as "a facilitator and an enforcer" on immigration, whose goal is to "bridge gaps between various Republican camps" on the issue, no easy task in a caucus that is as skeptical of House leadership as it has ever been.
He isn't a member of the bipartisan "gang" that's working on a comprehensive immigration plan for the House, he emphasizes, going out of his way to point out that he has demands Democrats would need to meet if the House is ever to strike an immigration deal.
"I work with [the bipartisan Gang of Seven], I meet with them. It's not my job to come in," he told the Washington Examiner. "I think it's a little vain to try and parachute in at the last minute [and] take credit for literally years of work."
"We're getting into the Democrats' minds that they're going to really have to compromise... that we don't trust the White House on enforcing laws that are ambiguous," he said. "Democrats are beginning to appreciate that they're going to have to negotiate with us. And I think that's a service I can provide, to help make that happen."
Ryan doesn't support the comprehensive approach the bipartisan group is taking. He wants to see immigration reform done piecemeal, with individual bills addressing issues like border security and citizenship for illegal immigrants separately, to avoid the kinds of compromises necessary to achieve a comprehensive bill.
"I've been telling that to Zoe [Lofgren] and Luis [Gutierrez] and everybody else: big bills are no way to legislate. We should break it into component parts... and those things can come together at the end of the day for a comprehensive approach," he said.
In the grand scheme of things, Ryan wants a grand scheme: for the component parts of immigration reform, the various individual bills, to be brought to the House floor simultaneously this fall.
On the day Ryan was being shadowed by a reporter and photographer in Washington, he spoke to a radio host in North Dakota, conservative talker Michael Medved; talked with his hometown newspaper, the Janesville Gazette; met with constituents; and had multiple floor conversations with members on both sides of the aisle. The major topic of it all was immigration.
After making coffee, Ryan returns to his office through a doorway over which hangs a cross.
There's speculation that Ryan's Catholicism -- and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' support for immigration reform -- influenced his decision to take a larger role in congressional negotiations on the issue and that this shared faith with Gutierrez, a Gang of Seven member, formed the foundation of their ongoing goodwill.
Ryan was once an aide to then-Sen. Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas, who cites a Bible verse to explain his own support for reform: "I was a stranger and you invited me in."
But Ryan is quick to shoot down the notion that his faith is driving his involvement.
"It's not that. People say, 'Is it because you're a Catholic?' No," he asserts. "It would be wrong to suggest that, because you're a Catholic, therefore you believe something. I'm pro-life not because I'm a Catholic. I'm pro-life because I'm pro-life."
It's not the only misperception people have of him, Ryan says. Reports that he started working with Gutierrez on immigration after a chance encounter in the House gym aren't correct.
"Gym is sacrosanct," said Ryan, a fitness fanatic committed to the strenuous P-90X workout that he demonstrated during a photo shoot for Time magazine during in 2011. "We have good, light-hearted conversations, but that's not where we quote-unquote 'cut deals.'"