WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A shocking announcement came from Capitol Hill Friday as House Speaker John Boehner announced he will step down from his leadership post and resign from Congress at the end of October.
The 13-term Ohio Republican shocked his GOP caucus early Friday morning when he informed them of his decision in a closed-door session. It came one day after the high point of Boehner’s congressional career, a historic speech by Pope Francis to Congress at Boehner’s request.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Boehner said he was planning on making the announcement on his birthday on Nov. 17, but decided “today is the day” when he woke up.
“This is the right time to do it,” Boehner told reporters.
Boehner explained that putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. He was planning on retiring at the end of last year, but his plans changed after Eric Cantor’s loss.
“I decided in November of 2010 when I was elected speaker serving two terms would’ve been plenty,” Boehner said, adding that he “didn’t believe it was right to leave at the end of last year.”
The House speaker said he was not pushed out by conservative opposition.
“I don’t want my members to have to go through this and I certainly don’t want the institution to go through this,” he said.
Conservatives have demanded that any legislation to keep the government operating past Wednesday’s midnight deadline strip Planned Parenthood of his funds, a move rejected by the more pragmatic lawmakers. The dispute had threatened Boehner’s speakership and roiled the GOP caucus.
“I think this will prevent a government shutdown, in the short-term,” NBC News’ Chuck Todd said on “Today.”
Earlier Friday, Rep. John Mica said that Boehner “just does not want to become the issue. Some people have tried to make him the issue both in Congress and outside.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Boehner’s resignation shows the “disarray of the House Republicans.”
“The resignation of the speaker is a stark indication of the disarray of the House Republicans,” Pelosi told reporters. “A demonstration of their obsession with shutting down government at the expense of women’s health and a sign of the failure of the House Republicans to be willing to engage in dialogue for the good of American people.”
President Barack Obama said Boehner’s resignation took him by surprise.
“We have obviously had a lot of disagreements and politically we are different ends of the spectrum, but I will tell you 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, and I think maybe most importantly, he is somebody who understands that in government – in governance – you don’t get 100 percent of what you want, but you have to work with people who you disagree with, sometimes strongly, in order to do the people’s business,” the president said.
Some conservatives welcomed Boehner’s 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.
Conservative group Heritage Action for America said in a statement that Boehner’s resignation “is a sign that the voice of the American people is breaking through in Washington.”
“Americans deserve a Congress that fights for opportunity for all and favoritism to none. Too often, Speaker Boehner has stood in the way. Today’s announcement is a sign that the voice of the American people is breaking through in Washington,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said in a statement. “Now is the time for a principled, conservative leader to emerge. Heritage Action will continue fighting for conservative policy solutions and we look forward to working with the new leadership team.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters he will not be seeking the House speaker post “because I don’t want it.”
Paul Ryan tells mob of reporters he is not running for speaker. When asked why, "because I don't want it"— Sarah Ferris (@sarahnferris) September 25, 2015
“It’s a good job for an empty nester,” Ryan said, who is a father of three.
CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has a “decided edge” to replace Boehner as speaker.
Boehner, with his relaxed and sociable demeanor, love of golf, and well-known tendency to cry in public, Boehner was widely popular among House Republicans. Though he is also known as a strong conservative, his tactics were never confrontational enough to satisfy the most conservative faction in the House.
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.
Even as they praised Boehner for a selfless move, some of his allies questioned whether it would make a difference.
“I think it’s an incredibly selfless act. I wish he were staying,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. “I don’t know that it will help us. Because he’s not the problem in our conference.”
The turmoil in Congress is playing out against an already roiling race for the GOP presidential nomination in which the candidates at the top of opinion polls are all Washington outsiders. Many of the GOP candidates have criticized Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’ve seen their approval ratings sag even among Republicans.
In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell praised Boehner as an ally and friend who transformed “a broken and dispirited Republican minority into the largest Republican majority” since 1931.
Religious conservatives, in Washington for the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, erupted in extended applause when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio informed them that Boehner was resigning.
“I’m not here to bash anyone,” Rubio said told the buzzing crowd, “but the time has come to turn the page.”
Boehner was first elected to the House in 1990 and soon established a strongly conservative record. He was part of former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership team when Republicans took over the House in 1995 for the first time in four decades but was ousted from his leadership role in the wake of the GOP’s disappointing performance in the 1998 midterms.
He won a 2006 race to succeed Tom DeLay as the House’s No. 2 Republican when DeLay stepped aside as majority leader. He took over as the top Republican in the House in 2007 after Democrats retook the chamber.
Boehner will appear on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this Sunday.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)