The resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House opens up what could become a Congressional maelstrom. Republicans may control the House of Representatives, but who controls the Republicans? Though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Cal.) is the favorite to take over, the agenda may be more important than the man. Moderate Republicans are becoming tired of giving in to the Tea Party caucus, while that caucus is enjoying outsized power and influence that a future Speaker may be cautious about continuing.
Boehner, 65, grew up the son of a barkeeper in Ohio. He’s always been one of the most openly emotional members of Congress. His announcement of resignation comes on the heels of fulfilling a 20-year mission to convince the Pope to address Congress.
It may seem like Boehner’s been Speaker as long as you can remember, but he only assumed the position in 2011. He is the first Speaker since Tip O’Neill in 1986 to leave the position of his own will, rather than to be forced out by party or election. Once rated as the 8th most conservative member of the House of Representatives, the Republican Party’s rightward swing has now made him into a pariah of often unwanted compromise.
Boehner’s resignation, to take effect at the end of October, comes at a time when he is facing pressure from conservatives in his own party. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz and the Tea Party caucus of the House are looking to shut the government down before voting for a bill that would fund Planned Parenthood. Without being threatened with the fate of his position, Boehner should be more willing to join moderate Republicans with Democrats in passing short-term funding measures that keep the government open.
Boehner’s resignation further fuels the contentious battle over the soul of the Republican Party. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) described the ultra-conservative bloc of his party as not having the numbers to get their own agendas pushed through Congress. “They just can’t get to yes, and so they undermine the ability of the Speaker to lead,” Dent said. “And not only do they undermine the ability of the Speaker to lead, but they undermine the entire Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself.”
Rep. Peter King, the Republican fixture from New York, was even harsher. “I think it signals the crazies have taken over the party,” King told CNN. “Taken over the party so that you can remove a Speaker of the House who’s second in line to be president, a constitutional officer in the middle of his term with no allegations of impropriety, a person who’s honest and doing his job. This has never happened before in our country.”
He also described Boehner’s resignation as “throwing raw meat” to those trying to “hijack and blackmail the party,” before concluding “the time for appeasement is over.”
What’s pushed Boehner from being one of the most respected conservative voices in the nation to becoming a political martyr for compromise?
Some would argue that it’s his willingness to talk with the Obama administration, but others argue that it’s his inconsistency in actually holding his ground on those compromises. He famously waffled on immigration reform, at first supporting it as a history-making compromise between the parties. When pressured from the Tea Party wing, he caved and refused to bring the bill he’d supported to the floor for a vote. Rather than seeing this as an attempt to compromise with their side, the Tea Party caucus began to see Boehner as a Speaker who could be bullied from the Far Right.
Even something as simple as a bill that helps maintain roads and bridges gave Boehner trouble. An urgent necessity and an issue that couldn’t be more popular among voters, the Tea Party wing opposed even this. Boehner once again caved, refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.
In doing this, Boehner did something no Speaker has ever done before: he ruled from the minority wing of his party. His predecessor, Dennis Hastert, practiced a partisan rule that no bill would be brought to a vote in the House without a majority of House Republicans supporting it. Boehner took this even further. The Tea Party caucus number only about 50 in the House, but as they kept threatening Boehner’s speakership, he gave them effective veto power over any bill, regardless of whether the actual majority of House Republicans supported it.
Boehner is being lauded in the media as a compromiser caught between hardline Tea Party Republicans and a Democratic administration. For a compromiser, he rarely compromised, regularly giving in to a minority caucus in his own party in the interest of his own position. In his last month, voters may finally get to see what a Boehner speakership free from that pressure could have looked like. They may see a man standing up to a vocal branch of his party in order to keep the government operating. This would be in stark contrast to the man who, in 2013, allowed the federal government to close over a failed attempt to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.
Will Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who’s already put his foot in his mouth by essentially admitting the Benghazi probe of Secy. Hillary Clinton is a politically-motivated attack, do anything different from Boehner? He’s favored because he’s loyal to his supporters in the House, but his politics have been notoriously hard to pin down. Will a political chameleon be a better Speaker than the stolid Boehner, or will McCarthy’s shiftiness only exacerbate the fight over what shape the Republican Party takes going forward?
How do you feel about Speaker John Boehner? Did he succeed or waste his opportunity?