WASHINGTON (AP) — With Congress in turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly informed fellow Republicans on Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October, stepping aside in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatens an institutional crisis.
The 13-term Ohio Republican, second in line to the presidency, shocked his GOP caucus Friday morning when he announced his decision in a closed-door session. It came one day after a high point of Boehner’s congressional career, a historic speech by Pope Francis to Congress at Boehner’s request.
A constant focus of conservatives’ complaints, 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 over 100 years. That was being pushed by tea partyers convinced Boehner wasn’t fighting hard enough to strip Planned Parenthood of government funds, even though doing so risked a government shutdown next week.
“It’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” Boehner told a news conference several hours after making the announcement to his rank and file. “There was never any doubt I could survive the vote, but I didn’t want my members to go through this, I didn’t want this institution to go through this.”
Boehner said he had planned all along to announce in November that he was resigning at the end of this year, but had not said so publicly. After emotional moments Thursday at the pope’s side, he woke up Friday morning and decided now was the time.
Boehner betrayed no regrets, even breaking into a brief verse of “Zippity Doo Dah” to demonstrate he was feeling good.
President Barack Obama, Boehner’s frequent antagonist and occasional partner, called the speaker “a good man” and a patriot.
“And I think, maybe most importantly, he’s somebody who understands that in government and governance, you don’t get 100 percent of what you want,” the president said. “But you have to work with people who you disagree with, and sometimes strongly, in order to do the people’s business.”
Some conservatives welcomed the announcement.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said “it’s time for new leadership,” and Rep. Tom Massie of Kentucky said the speaker “subverted our Republic.”
“I think it was inevitable,” Massie said. “This is a condition of his own making right here.”