Boehner: Prolonged turmoil would do irreparable damage

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Washington — An emotional House Speaker John Boehner says he woke up Friday morning and decided to announce his resignation from Congress because prolonged turmoil over his leadership would do irreparable harm to the House.

The Ohio Republican says he had planned to leave the speakership by the end of the year anyway. But he says he moved up his timetable as unrest among conservatives threatened the House.

The 13-term congressman told reporters it has been an honor to serve in the House for 25 years and as its top leader. He says California congressman Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 House Republican, would “make an excellent speaker.”

John Boehner, behind the tears

It came one day after a high point of Boehner’s congressional career, a historic speech by Pope Francis to Congress at Boehner’s request.

A constant focus of conservatives’ complaints, Boehner was facing the threat of a floor vote on whether he could stay on as speaker, a formal challenge that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. It was being pushed by tea partyers convinced Boehner wasn’t fighting hard enough to strip Planned Parenthood of government funds, even though doing so risked a government shutdown next week.

“The first job of any speaker is to protect this institution that we all love,” Boehner said in a statement not long after announcing his resignation to his colleagues. “It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. To that end, I will resign the speakership and my seat in Congress on Oct. 30.”

“Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children,” Boehner said. “I am proud of what we have accomplished.”

President Barack Obama praised Boehner as a “good man” and a patriot who kept his word to the president. Obama said he hopes the next speaker will understand that politicians can have major differences, but they shouldn’t shut down the government or risk the U.S. economy over those disagreements.

Obama said Boehner understands that in government, you don’t get 100 percent of what you want and must work with ideological opponents to get things done.

Some conservatives welcomed the announcement.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said “it’s time for new leadership,” and Rep. Tom Massie of Kentucky said the speaker “subverted our Republic.”

“I think it was inevitable,” Massie said. “This is a condition of his own making right here.”

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.

The nine-member GOP caucus has been mostly supportive of Boehner with the pointed exception of libertarian-leaning, Grand Rapids area Rep. Justin Amash.

Republican Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce panel, said he respects Boehner’s decision.

“In the coming days and weeks we will have critical votes before us — and we have to get the job done for the American people,” said Upton of St. John. “We are elected to put our country first, and I believe that is exactly what Speaker Boehner did today.”

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, thanked Boehner for his service, calling him a “tireless advocate for hardworking Americans” and saying she was proud to have been appointed by him to chair the House Administration panel.

“As Speaker of the House, he has led this chamber to several major legislative victories that have had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact on this country,” Miller said in a statement.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, is a member of the House Freedom Caucus — several dozen conservatives who warned in recent months of potential blowback against Boehner.

Amash, who voted against Boehner for speaker in 2013 and earlier this year, has long complained about the leadership manipulating House rules to their advantage and giving members little time to review bills before they go to the floor.

“What you’ve been seeing, frankly, is the leadership acting the same way they’ve been acting for the last several years. We’re going to have to vote on a spending bill sometime soon, but we have no idea what’s going to be in that bill because they refuse to have conversations with us about it,” Amash told The Detroit News last weekend at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

“There’s a problem with the leadership team. There’s a problem with the culture. That culture has to change,” Amash continued.

Amash was removed from the House Budget Committee a few years ago after disagreements with the House GOP leadership.

On Friday, he tweeted a message to Boehner: “We’ve had our differences, but I will miss you and our many heartfelt conversations in your office. Thank you for serving.”

Boehner’s departure ensures a major leadership race in which tea party conservatives would be expected to field a candidate.

Kyle Kondik, who studies congressional politics at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, called McCarthy the “odds-on favorite.”

Some conservatives were speculating whether Amash would be among the nominees for speaker. Amash’s office declined to comment on the rumors.

“Amash would certainly be a wild-card kind of candidate,” Kondik said. “If there are anti-McCarthy forces, the question is would they be organized? ... There is disparate opposition to party leadership but can all these people get behind a single person? That’s what they would need to do, and I’m not sure they’re organized enough to do it.”

In January, 25 Republicans voted against Boehner, who received 208 votes. The opposition was fractured with Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida getting 12 votes, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas receiving three, and Reps. Ted Yoho of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio getting two each.

Miller told Fox 2 Detroit Friday that she had fielded phone calls about stepping into the speaker’s role but didn’t say she was planning to run for the position. She has announced she will retire from Congress at the end of 2016 and is considering a run for governor in 2018.

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 President Barack 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.

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.

Detroit News staff writer Melissa Nann Burke and the Associated Press contributed to this report.