US Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner announced his resignation on Friday, effective at the end of October.
Boehner, 65, will end his five-year run as speaker embattled: a strengthening Tea Party wing of his House Republican caucus was planning an ugly and public revolt against his leadership, and an NBC/Wall Street Journal opinion poll released on Friday found that 72 percent of Republican primary voters disapprove of his performance.
While Tea Party Republicans considered Boehner a member of the establishment, out of touch with the anger and desire for change of his party base, the Ohioan says his goal was to keep the movement intact and functioning.
“I’ve done everything I can over my term as speaker to strengthen the institution,” Boehner told journalists at a press conference on Friday afternoon. “And frankly, my move today is another step in that effort to strengthen the institution.”
The top Republican served his home district in southwestern Ohio for 25 years over 13 consecutive terms. He has not considered plans for after his resignation, he told reporters, but his family was happy to hear of his decision.
“It’s the right time to do it, and frankly, I am entirely comfortable doing it,” he said.
Boehner planned on announcing his retirement in November, on his birthday, effective at the end of the year.
But a possible government shutdown next week, proposed by House Tea Party Republicans angered by the government’s funding of Planned Parenthood, coupled with a moving visit by Pope Francis to Congress – orchestrated by the Catholic speaker – convinced him that Friday was the right day for an announcement.
Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believe he was too willing to compromise with US President Barack Obama and too frequently relied on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation.
But Boehner said he was particularly proud of government spending cuts under his rule of up to $2.1 trillion over the next decade, and of his successful leadership on entitlement reform.
Speaking from the Rose Garden of the White House, Obama said he was caught by surprise at the news and praised Boehner as “a good man.” He said he hoped the speaker would be in a position to get a lot done before he leaves.
Only one year ago, Boehner’s resignation could have led to the country’s first Jewish speaker of the House, when Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia was still in office and serving as majority leader. Cantor lost his seat in an upset primary election to a Tea Party insurgent.
The current front-runner for speaker is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, although several other members have indicated an interest in running for the position from McCarthy’s right.
“I first met John Boehner over 30 years ago when he held his first elective office as a township trustee. A few years later, I worked for him as a page in the Ohio House,” said William Daroff, director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“Boehner has always been attuned to the interests of the Jewish community – working closely to help those served by our social service agencies, to bolster the philanthropic sector, and to strengthen the US-Israel relationship,” Daroff said. “His steadfast leadership will be missed.”
In Israel, Boehner may best be known for orchestrating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress last March on Iran.
Inviting the Israeli premier one day after Obama’s State of the Union address, he drew criticism for extending the offer without first consulting the White House. The Obama administration ultimately chose to boycott the speech, while Boehner denied accusations that he had made the event a partisan affair.