Speaker of the House John Boehner announced on Friday that he is planning to resign at the end of October.
“This morning, I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do, and thought, ‘This is the day I am going to do this,’” he told reporters, saying that his final decision hadn’t come until this morning. “Simple as that.”
One of his aides said the same thing on CNN: “After yesterday with the Pope, he decided to leave on this high note. Literally did not make the decision til last night.”
The Ohio Republican became majority leader in 2006 and has been speaker of the House since 2011. In those four years, he has faced near-constant threats from the more conservative edges of his party, who kept threatening to choose someone else to lead the House. Regardless of the endless challenges, he managed to keep his job, one of the more thankless in Washington. This month, he was facing especially intense opposition from conservatives trying to shut down the government over federal Planned Parenthood funding. Boehner often agreed with the policy aims of the conservative wing of his party — which mostly entailed fighting the Obama administration — although they always disagreed on how to register their discontent. While the right-wing edge of the party was willing to dismantle the government to achieve its aims, Boehner usually settled for more modest shows of antipathy. This led to perpetual disagreement — and, eventually, Boehner’s resignation.
At a press conference Friday morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the news “seismic.” She told reporters she hadn’t spoken to Boehner yet — she tried to call him about the bill to fund the government, and it turned out he was in a very important meeting. “The resignation of the speaker,” she added, “is a stark indication of the disarray of the House Republicans.”
President Obama called Boehner a “good man” at a U.N. press conference in New York. “We have obviously had a lot of disagreements and politically we’re at diferent ends of the spectrum,” he said. “He has always conducted himself with courtesy and civility with me. He has kept his word when he made a commitment. He is somebody who has been gracious. Most importantly, he’s somebody who understands that in government and in governance you don’t get 100 percent of what you want.”
Unsurprisingly, many conservatives cheered when the news of Boehner’s impending resignation began to spread. Senator Ted Cruz, one of the lawmakers most intent on shutting down the government if necessary, told his audience at the Values Voter Summit, “Yesterday John Boehner was Speaker of the House. Y’all come to town and somehow that changes. My only request is can you come more often?”
Plenty of his co-workers had nice things to say. Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Boehner “tried to do the right thing under almost impossible circumstances. He will be missed by Republicans and Democrats alike.” Representative Paul Ryan called Boehner a “great leader” and said his resignation was “an act of pure selflessness.” President George W. Bush released a statement saying, “I look forward to many rounds of golf with this good man.”
New York representative Peter King told Newsday that the resignation was “a victory for the crazies. You can’t appease these people.” Senator Mitch McConnell called the news “very, very sad.”
According to the Washington Post, the news was also a surprise to many of his colleagues.
Just a few hours earlier, Boehner had laughed when reporters asked if he planned to resign.
Boehner’s exit is likely going to create congressional chaos next month as several officials jockey for his role in the party — however, it will likely clean up another impending mess.
Many of the conservatives who threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood demands now plan on funding the government, according to the Washington Post. However, the current plan would only fund the government until mid-December — which means the new House speaker might have to deal with a potential shutdown instead.
The House speaker first joined Congress in 1991. One of the highlights of his career happened yesterday, when Pope Francis spoke at the Capitol. Boehner had been inviting pontiffs to come for nearly two decades. In a statement to reporters, his office said, “Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all. … The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution.”
Boehner had wanted to retire at the end of 2014 — at least until House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost, a shocking turn of events that “changed that calculation.” Representative Kevin McCarthy became the new House majority leader last year — and is already being mentioned as Boehner’s possible replacement. However, many conservatives — fed up with fighting with party leadership — are going to try and take over, too.
Boehner has always been transparent about how sucky his job could be. Last weekend, he told Politico, “Garbage men get used to the smell of bad garbage. Prisoners learn how to become prisoners, all right?”
This morning, a reporter told Boehner, “Congratulations.” He responded, “Thank you!” When asked if the news took a weight off his shoulders, he added, “It’s a wonderful day.”
This post has been updated throughout.