House Speaker John Boehner to Resign from Congress At End of October

House Speaker John Boehner to Resign from Congress At End of October

House Speaker John Boehner told his Republican conference this morning that he will resign his Speakership and his seat in Congress on October 30, 2015.

The House has been girding for battle on the FY2016 appropriations bills pitting those whose primary interest is keeping the government operating against those determined to end government funding of Planned Parenthood.   The most conservative wing of the Republican party in the House has sent strong indications that they plan to try to remove Boehner as Speaker this fall because they do not think he fights strongly enough for their causes, such as defunding Planned Parenthood. 

Boehner, a Catholic and former altar boy, was visibly moved by the visit of Pope Francis yesterday.  He and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also a Catholic, were the ones who invited the Pope to address a joint session of Congress, the first Pope to accept such an invitation.   The Pope’s visit fulfilled one of Boehner’s lifelong dreams according to multiple accounts.

One of the Pope’s messages to Congress was unity: “Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.  Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. …. Legislative activity is always based on the care for the people.  To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

The Hill newspaper quotes a Boehner aide as saying that Boehner feels his primary role in Congress is to protect the institution and “as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all.”  The aide added that Boehner felt a prolonged battle over his leadership “would do irreparable damage to the institution” and he therefore will resign “for the good of the Republican conference and the institution.”   The aide also said that Boehner planned to retire last year, but stayed after his second-in-command, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), lost his seat in a primary race.

Cantor was succeeded as Majority Leader by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).  Speculation as to who will replace Boehner as Speaker in these initial hours focuses on McCarthy.  He issued a statement saying “It takes profound humility to step down from a position of power, and John’s depth of character is unmatched. … Now is the time for our conference to focus on healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead and always do what is best for the American people.”

From a space policy standpoint, McCarthy represents the district that includes Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air & Space Port.   He has been actively involved in commercial space issues and is the lead sponsor of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, which passed the House on May 21.   It is far too early, of course, to assume that he will become Speaker or that space policy will have greater visibility in the House if he is.

Boehner’s announcement may be good news for those who want to avoid a government shutdown next week because he may be more willing to pass a clean Continuing Resolution (CR) using Democratic votes to get the needed 218 votes even though many of his own members will vote against it.  He and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have vowed since the beginning of the year that they will not allow another shutdown like the one in 2013, and both have been fighting the most conservative wings of their parties that do not view a government shutdown as a negative.   McConnell is going through a process in the Senate right now that many expect will ultimately lead to the Senate passing a clean CR (without any policy riders such as defunding Planned Parenthood).

It is always risky to try and predict what Congress will do, however, as Boehner’s surprise announcement this morning proves.

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