House Speaker Ryan: Trump tapping into voter anger

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday the rise of Donald Trump can be explained by voters being fed up that America is on the wrong track. Ryan blamed the liberal policies of President Barack Obama.

"You have conservatives, like myself ... who are very upset about the direction of the country," Ryan told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "You have people in America panicked because they have economic anxiety."

Ryan, who was the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2012, is not supporting any one candidate as the 2016 nomination contests continue.

"There's nothing we can do about what's going on in the presidential election and what the outcome of that is in Congress," Ryan said. He said he's concentrating on crafting a conservative agenda that a Republican president can help execute.

Trump, the GOP front-runner, takes his weekend win in South Carolina and his victory earlier this month in New Hampshire into Tuesday's Nevada caucuses. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hoping to halt Trump's roll.

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Next week's Super Tuesday contests feature primaries in Cruz's home state of Texas, Virginia, and many others. Then on March 15, the day states can award delegates on a winner-take-all basis, Rubio's home base of Florida is among states going to the polls.

Trump's home state of New York holds its primary on April 19, with the final contests coming later that month and in May and early June. The Republican Party holds its nominating convention in Cleveland in mid-July.

Ryan will play a key role at the GOP convention, which is run under the rules of the House of Representatives. The speaker presides over the convention, and typically opens and closes the gathering.

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While staying out of the presidential race, Ryan said he can help craft the conversation. "We can make this an ideas contest and not a personality contest ... and show where we, Republicans, can go in 2017 if you give us a president we can work with."

With the presidency, the House and Senate, and a seat on the Supreme Court all in play, Ryan argued the nation stands a crossroads.

He said that's why he's going to soon release a five-point agenda. It will offer ideas on an alternative to Obamacare, and how to fix the economy, reform entitlements, craft foreign policy and reclaim government by consent not executive order.

Replacing late Supreme Court Justice Scalia

On the issue of replacing the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Ryan said, "The president has every right to nominate somebody, but the Senate has equally every right not to bring someone through."

Republicans arguing against an election-year Supreme Court nomination are pointing to a 1992 speech made by Vice President Joe Biden when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

At the time, Biden said then-President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, should wait until after the November election to name a Supreme Court nominee, if a justice were to retire.

Flash forward to present day when Democrat Obama is faced with a vacancy created by the death of a conservative justice.

"This is a generational pick for the Supreme Court. And there is a precedent for not putting someone through in the middle of a presidential campaign," Ryan said.


Ryan on encryption fight

In the government's attempt to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers, Ryan said: "This is a serious issue that's not a one-off event. It's going to have big consequences, so we want to get this right. We want to be smart about this."

Ryan said the House is going to hold hearings on the matter. Apple CEO Tim Cook and FBI Director James Comey have been asked to testify.

"We have to remember precedents we set and what it does to civil liberties and what it does to protect personal privacy," Ryan said. "We can't kneejerk on these things."

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— The Associated Press contributed to this report.