- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the House, woke up Friday morning. He went to Starbucks for his morning coffee. He got breakfast at Pete’s Diner, a Washington institution where he’s a regular.
And he decided that “today’s the day” he wasgoing to resign as speaker.
“I decided today’s the day I’m going to do this. It’s as simple as that,” Boehner said Friday, during an emotional press conference.
Tears formed in his eyes, and his handkerchief made several appearances during the press conference, which he held hours after he stunned Washington by announcing he would resign from Congress at the end of October.
Boehner had planned to retire last year, according to his aides. His calculus was changed, however, by the unexpected Republican primary loss of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a close Boehner ally whose 2014 defeat shocked Washington.
He said Friday that he was planning to retire around November 17, his birthday. But amid rising tension within the caucus and a spat over legislation to keep the government funded, he decided now was the right time.
“This prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” Boehner said.
He was prodded by the visit of Pope Francis, who on Thursday became the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress. Negotiations to get Francis to Washington were spearheaded by Boehner, a Catholic, and it was perhaps the seminal moment of his speakership.
Boehner, whose emotions were on full display during the pope’s visit, talked about a moment during which he and Francis were alone after the day’s events. Francis, he said, grabbed his left arm and said “kind words” to Boehner about his commitment to kids and education. Francis put his arm around Boehner, pulled Boehner closer to him, and asked Boehner to pray for him.
“Wow,” Boehner said. “Who am I to pray for the pope? But I did.”
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
He announced the decision in a House Republican caucus meeting Friday morning, in which Republicans discussed a strategy going forward with a possible government shutdown looming at the end of the month.
Boehner’s most likely replacement is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California). Boehner stopped short of endorsing McCarthy, but did say he’d be an “excellent speaker.” He said he had to tell McCarthy five times that he was resigning because he didn’t believe him.
Boehner’s speakership has been marked by constant tension with the conservative wing of the House Republican caucus. That pressure has intensified lately – Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) in July filed a motion to force the speaker to vacate his post.
And that “turmoil,” as Boehner put it, that has been “churning for a couple months,” led him to leave now.
In the end, he seemed at peace. When asked what he’ll miss about being in Congress, he joked with reporters that he’d, of course, miss them. And when another reporter commented on his “relieved” demeanor, he abruptly broke into dance.
“Zip-a-dee-do-dah!” he said.
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) September25, 2015