John Boehner to resign as speaker, leave House

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
September 25, 2015

Republican House Speaker John Boehner announced Friday that he will step down from his post as the country’s No. 3 elected official and leave Congress entirely, effective Oct. 30. The Ohio lawmaker dropped his bombshell announcement one day after fulfilling his two-decade dream to host the pope at the Capitol.

The move sent ripples of shock through official Washington, where the timing of his decision surprised everyone from Boehner’s top deputy, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, to President Obama. McCarthy was seen as the favorite to succeed Boehner, but likely faced a divisive leadership fight with the party’s more anti-establishment wing.

Boehner’s decision emerged one day after he hosted Pope Francis. The speaker, a lifelong Catholic, was visibly emotional throughout the visit, shedding tears during the pontiff’s address to a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives, a first.

At a press conference that swung from jovial to tearful and back again, Boehner described his decision to bring the curtain down on a quarter-century in Congress as partly inspired by the pope, partly a spur-of-the moment call.

“This morning, I woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided, ‘You know, today’s the day I’m going to do this,’” he told reporters. “As simple as that.”

It wasn’t quite that simple, though. Since virtually the moment the 65-year-old lawmaker first hefted the speaker’s gavel in early 2011, Boehner came under intense pressure from the conservative wing of his party to resist compromises with Democrats and to use spending bills as leverage for measures unacceptable to President Obama — risking a shutdown of the government.

That prospect loomed large over his announcement. A phalanx of conservatives have demanded that spending legislation for fiscal year 2016, which begins next Thursday, strip out funding for Planned Parenthood. Boehner’s decision means insurgent Republicans threatening to try to replace him have largely lost their leverage, while the speaker is freer to court Democratic votes to avert a shutdown.
And there was the matter of his longtime rivalry with former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Boehner said he had thought about resigning in 2014, but reversed course after Cantor’s shock defeat in his reelection primary. Facing another potential conservative insurrection, Boehner said he had concluded that a leadership fight now “would do irreparable harm to the institution.”
75cc50ce3ffbce99e4d5a4a7d1da0152c0a783b8Yuri Gripa/Reuters
About who should be his successor, Boehner said he would not be around to vote. But he underlined that McCarthy “would make an excellent speaker.”

Asked whether the next speaker might inherit his same challenges, Boehner replied: “Hopefully not.”

“At the end of the day, the leaders will have to be able to work with each other, trust each other to find the common ground, and get things done,” he said. “If the Congress stays focused on what’s important to the American people, they’ll get along just fine.”

Obama, when asked about Boehner during a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping, declared: “It took me by surprise.”

The president said he had spoken by telephone earlier with his frequent antagonist and went on to praise him as a patriot and a man of his word. But Obama expressed pessimism about prospects for improved relations with his opposition in Congress.

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