House Speaker John Boehner announced he will resign from Congress at the end of October, a surprise end to his congressional career that followed repeated clashes with conservative members of his Republican conference.
The speaker said in a statement that he is resigning because “prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution.” He had intended only to serve through the end of 2014, he said, but stayed on to provide “continuity” after the election defeat last year of former No. 2 Republican Eric Cantor.
A favorite to succeed Boehner is Kevin McCarthy of California, the current No. 2 Republican. Representative Daniel Webster of Florida -- who got 12 votes when he opposed Boehner for speaker in January -- probably will run, said Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican. “His pitch is we’re going to reform the institution,” Massie said. Webster declined in an interview to say whether he’ll run, adding, “Today is John Boehner’s day.”
Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he won’t seek the job. "I don’t want it,” he said.
Boehner announced his resignation a day after he welcomed Pope Francis to the Capitol, an appearance the Catholic speaker from Ohio had worked for months to arrange. He told rank-and- file Republicans in a private meeting Friday morning and said nothing to reporters as he left.
Boehner is now free to ignore the demands of conservatives in his party who have threatened to shut down the government rather than continue federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women’s reproductive health service. He will be able to schedule a quick vote on a temporary funding bill that the Senate is expected to pass next week. With Democratic support, that legislation will postpone the threat of a shutdown beyond Oct. 1.
The risk of a shutdown will rise again by Dec. 11, when short-term funding for the government expires.
The announcement kicks off weeks of jockeying among Republicans for top leadership spots even as Congress faces a late October deadline to renew highway funding and a November deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The Republican shakeup raises the prospect that conservatives will have more leverage to use the debt ceiling fight to demand spending cuts and other changes.
While Boehner favored reviving the U.S. Export-Import Bank, McCarthy and Hensarling have opposed it. The bank’s charter expired June 30, eliminating a source of credit for U.S. companies seeking export sales.
Longshot choices may include Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who ranks fourth in the Republican leadership, and Peter Roskam of Illinois, who lost election earlier this year for Republican whip, the third-ranking position.
Outlier candidates could be any of a number of conservatives, led by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas. Hensarling declined to say whether he would run and Sessions said he would wait until Boehner publicly announces his plans.
Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who had authored a motion to depose Boehner, said he wouldn’t run for speaker. Jim Jordan of Ohio, leader of the Freedom Caucus of conservatives, said he doesn’t plan to run.
Boehner’s announcement laid bare a raw division between congressional Republicans who want to more forcefully fight President Barack Obama, even at the risk of shutting down the government, and those who are more conciliatory.
‘It is a farce.’
Obama said he learned of Boehner’s resignation as he was leaving from his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that the news took him by surprise. He called Boehner “a good man” who, though a member of the opposing party, has “always conducted himself with courtesy and civility with me.”
Obama said he telephoned Boehner on Friday and added that he hopes the next speaker will realize that “we can have significant differences on issues but that doesn’t mean you shut down the government.”
Massie criticized Boehner’s leadership, accusing him of forcing members to vote his way.
“The American people can see what is happening up here,” said Massie, who was among a group of Republicans who said in January they would oppose Boehner’s election as speaker. “It is a farce.”
Representative Peter King of New York said Boehner’s resignation "is a victory for the crazies."
"I understand why he did it, but I don’t agree," King said, adding that McCarthy is the most likely successor.
Current government funding expires on Sept. 30. Conservatives have demanded to eliminate spending for Planned Parenthood over hidden-camera videos released this summer by an anti-abortion group that show executives of the health provider discussing financial reimbursement for providing tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers.
Planned Parenthood denies that it profits from the practice.
"We have a plan to keep the government open and we will execute it next week," Republican Greg Walden of Oregon said. Republicans plan to send Obama a measure to finance the government without defunding Planned Parenthood, he said.
The House then would turn to a separate bill that would eliminate Planned Parenthood’s federal funding and halt the Affordable Care Act, said Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican. Lawmakers would use an expedited procedure that would allow the measure to get to Obama’s desk, bypassing a filibuster by Senate Democrats. Obama would veto the legislation, and Democrats would prevent Congress from overriding him.
Instrument of Peace
Boehner’s sudden resignation threatens to further divide his caucus, as Boehner’s loyalists lashed out at Republicans who had threatened to try to topple him.
"The honor of John Boehner today is in sharp contrast to the idiocy of those in the conference who seek to divide us," said Representative David Jolly, a Florida Republican.
Boehner told Republicans that the next month "should be about healing, not retribution," said Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
He said Boehner recited to fellow Republicans the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which says in part, "Make me an instrument of peace."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Boehner put “country and institution before self” and “brought conservative reform in many areas.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters that the struggle within the House Republican caucus is over members who are anti-government.
"Anti-governance? Shut it down and celebrate? That’s unacceptable," she said. “That’s really what we’re seeing right now -- a political party at war with its own government."
Boehner, 65, has been speaker since 2011. In a sign of the depth of conservative frustration with his leadership, the audience at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington burst into applause and a lengthy standing ovation when Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is running for president, announced on stage that the speaker was resigning.
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