Boehner said he decided to announce his resignation because prolonged turmoil over his leadership would do irreparable harm to the House. He added that he had planned to leave the speakership by the end of the year but moved up his timetable amid increasing unrest among conservatives.
He told reporters that it had been an honour to serve in Congress for 25 years, adding that California congressman Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 House Republican, would “make an excellent speaker”.
A constant focus of complaints from conservatives, Boehner was facing the threat of a floor vote on whether he could stay on as speaker, a formal challenge that hasn’t happened in more than 100 years. The move was being pushed through by Tea Party members, many of whom are staunch anti-abortionists convinced that Boehner wasn’t fighting hard enough to halt government funding for women’s healthcare clinic Planned Parenthood, even though the controversy over doing so risks prompting a government shutdown next week.
Florida Republican Representative John Mica told AP on Friday that Boehner “just does not want to become the issue” as hardline conservatives inside the Republican Party launch a challenge to his leadership.
Boehner, now into his 13th two-year congressional term, first announced his decision in a closed-door session of the Republican caucus earlier on Friday. The move came a day after Pope Francis made a historic speech to Congress at Boehner’s request.
Not conservative enough
With his relaxed and sociable demeanor, love of golf and well-known tendency to cry in public, Boehner was widely popular among House Republicans. Though he is also known as a strong conservative, his tactics were never confrontational enough to satisfy the most conservative faction in the House.
Although it’s not certain who will succeed Boehner, McCarthy is the most obvious candidate. A genial Californian who was first elected to Congress in 2006, McCarthy did not immediately announce any plans to run for speaker but is widely expected to do so. Nevertheless, Boehner’s departure ensures a major leadership race in which Tea Party conservatives would be expected to field a candidate.
Some conservatives welcomed the announcement.
Representative Tim Huelskamp said “it’s time for new leadership”, while Republican Tom Massie said the speaker had “subverted our republic”.
“I think it was inevitable,” Massie said. “This is a condition of his own making right here.”
But more mainstream Republicans said it would be a pyrrhic victory for the Tea Party.
“The honour of John Boehner this morning stands in stark contrast to the idiocy of those members who seek to continually divide us,” said Representative David Jolly of Florida.
“The shutdown caucus, as I call them, has a small victory,” Jolly said.
Boehner took over the speakership in January 2011. His tenure has been defined by his early struggles to reach budget agreements with President Barack Obama and his wrestling with the expectations of Tea Party conservatives who disliked his tendency toward deal-making.
Two years ago, conservatives drove him to orchestrate a partial government shutdown in hopes of delaying the implementation of Obama’s new healthcare law. The tactic was unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, Tea Party lawmakers had been pressing him to retry the tactic to try to take away federal funding from Planned Parenthood following the disclosure of controversial videos involving its practices of procuring fetal tissue for research purposes. Boehner also announced plans on Friday to schedule a vote on a government funding bill that includes Planned Parenthood funding before next week’s deadline. It will be likely to pass with Democratic support, notwithstanding conservative complaints.
The turmoil in Congress is playing out against an already roiling race for the Republican presidential nomination in which the candidates at the top of opinion polls are all Washington outsiders. Many of the Republican candidates have criticised Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who’ve seen their approval ratings sink even among other Republicans.
FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS