Republican House Speaker John Boehner will step down from his post as the country’s No. 3 elected official and leave Congress effective October 30, an aide told Yahoo News on Friday. The bombshell announcement came a day after Boehner fulfilled his two-decade dream to one day host the pope at the Capitol.
The Ohio Republican’s decision was sure to touch off a divisive leadership fight among House Republicans, even as lawmakers hunt for a way to avoid a looming government shutdown. There was no obvious successor.
“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,” the aide to Boehner said on condition of anonymity.
“The speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” the aide said.
Boehner’s decision emerged one day after he hosted Pope Francis. The speaker, a lifelong Catholic, was visibly emotional throughout the visit, including the pontiff’s address to a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives, a first.
“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 aide said.
“The speaker’s plan was to serve only through the end of last year,” the aide said. But former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shock reelection loss “changed that calculation.”
Almost from the start of his speakership in early 2011, Boehner faced an insurgency from Tea Party Republicans unafraid to shut the government down.
That prospect loomed large over his announcement because a phalanx of conservatives have demanded that 2016 spending legislation strip Planned Parenthood of funding. That would trigger a showdown with Democrats and the White House that could lock up the process, shutting down the government. Senior GOP leaders worry that the public would blame Republicans, potentially costing them the 2016 elections.
Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has sometimes stoked conservative anger in the House, said at the conservative Values Voters summit in Washington that the question of Boehner’s successor was up to the House.
But he quickly moved on to a lengthy critique of his speakership, blaming it for “volcanic” frustration among conservatives around the country.
Cruz, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said he had “long called on Republican leadership to do something unusual, which is lead — to actually stand up and honor the commitments that we made to the American people.”
“We’ve had Republican majorities in both houses of Congress for coming up on a year now. And what on Earth have they done?” Cruz declared.