Paul Ryan aide calls RI protests ‘unfortunate’

Speaker's itinerary for the day also included meeting with CVS execs, fundraiser

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Paul Ryan’s brief visit to downtown Providence on Thursday afternoon was greeted with a large protest organized by progressive activists, who then faced criticism themselves for their demonstration.

The Wisconsin Republican swung through the city for a closed-door meeting with young people at the offices of Year Up, a national nonprofit that provides training for low-income young people. Ryan spokesman Zack Roday said the speaker was “excited to visit another Year Up campus today and learn more about the positive difference they are making in communities around the country.”

“Speaker Ryan toured Year Up’s facility and heard success stories from current students before taking questions,” Roday reported. “He learned about the impact this program has had on students’ lives and came away thoroughly impressed.”

While Ryan was at Year Up, hundreds of protestors gathered near its offices to condemn his policies, though they were kept at a distance by police. Among those on hand was state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, who said they wanted the speaker to know that “resistance is going to meet him wherever he goes.”

Roday said in response: “It is unfortunate protestors chose to demonstrate at Year Up – a great organization that works to support young adults so they can experience economic success and stability.”

The demonstrators on hand dismissed suggestions they were protesting the nonprofit, saying they were there to show their strong disagreement with Ryan’s policies on issues such as health care, women’s rights and education. They also said they wanted to call attention to the speaker’s failure to hold a town hall meeting for his constituents in Wisconsin.

State Rep. Robert Nardolillo, a Coventry Republican who is mulling whether to run against U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse next year, also criticized the protestors. Nardolillo called the demonstration “shameful” and said its leaders “did everything they could to destroy Rhode Island’s chances of fostering productive relations with the White House.”

Year Up wasn’t the only stop on Ryan’s trip. R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell confirmed the House speaker met with executives from CVS Health and attended a dinner fundraiser at the Hope Club in Providence.

Before Ryan attended Thursday’s dinner, he met with several state leaders privately, including Bell.

“We had a great meeting. We talked about Rhode Island’s issues. We talked about Obamacare and tax reform,” Bell said. “We talked about how we can help him and he can help us.”

Woonsocket-based CVS has a major financial stake in the debate over President Obama’s health care law, which Ryan has pledged to repeal and replace.

“Meeting with public officials is a usual and important part of our work to fulfill our company’s purpose of helping people on their path to better health,” CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel told Eyewitness News. “We always appreciate the opportunity to engage with elected leaders across the political spectrum in a dialogue about how various public policy proposals would affect our company and our customers.”

Tony Bucci, a veteran Rhode Island Republican fundraiser, also said he met with Ryan privately on Thursday.

“The fact that he was here meeting with the company is great for Rhode Island, and the fact that they are working on this new health care bill is going to be terrific,” Bucci told Eyewitness News.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram