John Boehner made an emotional announcement on his future this Friday morning, telling fellow Republicans that he would step down at the end of October.
The House Speaker was first elected to Congress in 1990, but has come under increasing pressure from the conservative wing of the Republican party. That pressure will now see him give up one of the most powerful positions in government, and his House seat, writes Jennifer Steinhauer for The New York Times.
Conservative Republicans bring down Boehner
Congress has been rocked by the decision as it attempts to prevent the U.S. government from shutting down. Boehner struggled to unite the Republican party after taking the speaker’s gavel in 2011, with conservative elements becoming increasingly powerful.
The U.S. government may shut down due to row over the funding of non-profit Planned Parenthood. The organization receives $500 million of federal funding for non-abortion related activities, but conservatives have been outraged by secretly recorded videos in which Planned Parenthood officials can be heard discussing the possibility of taking tissue from aborted fetuses to be used in medical research.
Boehner has been attempting to negotiate a deal that would keep the government open, but conservative elements in the Republican party told him they would reject any bill that maintained funding for Planned Parenthood. Some conservative elements had even spoken of trying to remove Boehner as speaker, although it was not clear if they would have been able to.
Boehner quits rather than rely on Democrat support
Conservatives aligned with the Tea Party had threatened to call up a procedural motion to “vacate the chair,” as such pressing for the election of a new speaker. That would have meant Boehner turning to the Democrats for the support he would have needed to save his position, and instead he chose to resign.
The Atlantic cites a Boehner aide who told the publication: “The speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” the aide said. “He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.”
According to the aide, Boehner was going to leave Congress at the end of last year, but he decided to stay after his likely successor, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, lost his position in a huge electoral upset. Now conservatives have succeeded in taking down Cantor and Boehner in just 15 months.
Speaker goes out on a high after Pope visits Capitol
The race to succeed Boehner is currently led by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Boehner has had a colorful political career, starting out as a conservative rabble rouser after his first election to Congress in 1990. He rose to a leadership position but was forced out in 1998, before working his way up through the ranks once again, becoming minority leader and then speaker after the 2010 election.
Washington has been taken by surprise by the announcement, which came the day after Pope Francis visited the Capitol. Boehner has dreamed of having a pontiff speak in Congress for the past 20 years, and the visit also included a private meeting between the pope and Boehner.
Unfortunately for Boehner, conservative Republicans appeared to back him into a corner over Planned Parenthood. During a period of intense political divisions in the House, Boehner finally buckled under pressure from the right-wing of his party.