Politics

House Speaker John Boehner stuns Congress, announces resignation

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) talks with reporters in his office in the U.S. Capitol in this November 21, 2014 file photo. GOP lawmakers say Boehner will resign at the end of October.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) talks with reporters in his office in the U.S. Capitol in this November 21, 2014 file photo. GOP lawmakers say Boehner will resign at the end of October.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner announces Friday morning that he would be retiring, facing pressure from conservative Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood and potentially shut down the federal government to accomplish that. This comes one day after Boehner accomplished a longtime goal of having the pope speak to a joint session of Congress, after which California Rep. Maxine Waters called Boehner and congratulated him on this accomplishment. Waters spoke with KPCC about her call with Boehner.

Updates

Update 1:29 p.m. Rep. Maxine Waters on her conversation with John Boehner at an emotional moment

Rep. Maxine Waters, who represents California's 43rd Congressional District, which includes South Los Angeles County, spoke with KPCC about a story Rep. John Boehner told in his speech announcing his retirement about a moment they shared Thursday.

"I called him, and I told him, 'You know, you have done very well. You are successful. You worked hard, and you became the speaker of the House of Representatives, and that's not an easy task,"' Waters said. "I said, 'And when I looked at you standing next to the pope, and you were very vulnerable at the time, you were emotional, but I know that that's a dream that you had. That someday, you would get the pope to address the joint session of Congress, and you made that happen. So you've done well, and I'm proud of you.'"

Waters said that she felt Thursday that she needed to say that to him. She was watching the speech with her staff, and while not everyone knew that she had made the call, they were all excited about the moment Waters and Boehner shared, she said.

"I think a lot of people in this country will be surprised when they hear that we had a relationship," Waters said. "Me being a Democrat, a progressive Democrat, him being a Republican, but they need to know that what they read about all the time is not exactly what goes on here. There are relationships, and behind the scenes, people are working and trying to get along, a few of us are. And he has been very helpful to me at some points in my career, and I've been able to be supportive of him at some points in OUR career."

Waters cited help Boehner gave her on repealing the national flood insurance program and helping her to reduce flood insurance premiums. She also said that up to today, she's been working with Boehner on a way to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the federal government's official export credit agency, despite opposition from the right wing of Boehner's party.

She said that she developed a relationship with Boehner as they were both members of the same freshman class in Congress, taking classes together in the procedures that the House of Representatives operates on and learning the ropes.

"We've always been friendly, we've always been cordial, we've always been able to share information from time to time, and over a period of 25 years, we greatly respect each other and, when we differ, we differ, without being destructive in our differences," Waters said.

When it comes to his replacement, Waters said that she thinks Democrats just need to stay out of it and let Republicans battle it out.

"Whoever comes out as their leader, that's the person we're going to have to deal with," Waters said. "And of course, we're going to be on opposite sides on many issues, but, you know, I think that John Boehner and I are an example of how you can get along despite the fact that you don't always agree."

KPCC staff

Updated 10:53 a.m. Resigning to avert 'irreparable harm' to the House 

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.

He told reporters at a news conference 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."

Asked if he had any advice for McCarthy, he said, "I'll tell Kevin if he's the next speaker, that his No. 1 responsibility is to protect the institution. Nobody else around here has an obligation like that."

Boehner also spoke of an emotional moment he had with Pope Francis the day before, when the pontiff was visiting Washington to address Congress:

"As the pope and I were getting ready to exit the building, we found ourselves alone. And the pope grabbed my left arm and said some very kind words to me about my commitment to kids and education. And the pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says, 'Please pray for me.' Well, who am I to pray for the pope? But I did."

Boehner said he would miss the camaraderie of the House, noting that he had good relationships with his colleagues, regardless of party. He cited one exchange he had with Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of Southern California, who entered Congress in the same class of lawmakers 25 years ago:

"Now there's nothing about my politics and Maxine Waters' politics that's even anywhere close. But yesterday about 5:30 she called my office. I got a note that she called, so I called her back. And she said, 'You know, I've watched you for 25 years here. We came here together, and watched your career. And I watched you today,' and she says, 'I just want to tell you something. I'm really proud of you.' You know, listen, I've got the best relationships on both sides of the aisle, because I treat people fairly and treat them honestly, and, but I'm certainly going to miss my colleagues, yes."

— AP with KPCC staff

Updated 10:07 a.m. Boehner releases statement following resignation news

House Speaker John Boehner released the following statement Friday after it was announced he would resign from Congress:

"My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government.  Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children.  I am proud of what we have accomplished.

"The first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution that we all love.  It was my plan to only serve as Speaker until the end of last year, but I stayed on to provide continuity to the Republican Conference and the House.  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 October 30.

"Today, my heart is full with gratitude for my family, my colleagues, and the people of Ohio’s Eighth District.  God bless this great country that has given me - the son of a bar owner from Cincinnati - the chance to serve."

— KPCC staff

6:54 a.m. Speaker Boehner stuns Congress, announces resignation

In a stunning move, House Speaker John Boehner informed fellow Republicans on Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October, stepping aside in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatened an institutional crisis.

The 13-term Ohio Republican shocked his GOP caucus early Friday morning when he announced his decision in a closed-door session. 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. That 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.

Boehner "just does not want to become the issue," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. "Some people have tried to make him the issue both in Congress and outside," Mica said.

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.

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 Boehnerand his Senate counterpart, Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who've seen their approval ratings sag even among Republicans.

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."

Although it's not certain who will succeed Boehner, the most obvious candidate is the No. 2 House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, a genial Californian who was first elected to Congress in 2006. McCarthy did not immediately announce any plans to run for speaker but would be expected to. Regardless, Boehner's departure ensures a major leadership race in which tea party conservatives would be expected to field a candidate.

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.

— Associated Press reporters Erica Werner and Alan Fram. AP writers Steve Peoples and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.