But more mainstream Republicans said it would be a pyrrhic victory for the tea partyers.
“The honor of John Boehner this morning stands in stark contrast to the idiocy of those members who seek to continually divide us,” said Rep. David Jolly of Florida.
“The shutdown caucus as I call them has a small victory,” Jolly said.
Although it’s not certain who will succeed Boehner, the most obvious candidate would be the No. 2 House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, a genial Californian who was first elected to Congress in 2006. While insisting that decision is up to fellow Republicans, Boehner declared Friday that “Kevin McCarthy would make an excellent speaker.”
Nonetheless, Boehner’s departure ensures a major leadership race in which tea party conservatives would be expected to field a candidate.
As he told lawmakers Friday of his plan to resign, Boehner also announced plans to schedule a vote on a government funding bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood before next week’s deadline. It will be likely to pass with Democratic support, notwithstanding conservative complaints.
Boehner, 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.
Boehner’s decision removes the possibility of a damaging vote to strip him of his speakership, a scenario that grew more likely amid the clamor over a possible shutdown.
Boehner took over the speakership in January 2011. His tenure has been defined by his early struggles to reach budget agreements with Obama and his wrestling with the expectations of tea party conservatives who abhorred his tendencies toward deal-making.
Two years ago, conservatives drove him to reluctantly embrace a partial government shutdown in hopes of delaying implementation of Obama’s new health care 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.
Surprised Democrats saw disorder in the House GOP, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling Boehner’s resignation “seismic.”
The turmoil is playing out against an already roiling race for the GOP presidential nomination in which the candidates at the top of opinion polls are all Washington outsiders. Many of the GOP candidates have criticized Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’ve seen their approval ratings sag even among Republicans.
Religious conservatives, in Washington for the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, erupted in extended applause when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio informed them that Boehner was resigning.
“I’m not here to bash anyone,” Rubio said told the buzzing crowd, “but the time has come to turn the page.”