Shortly after House Speaker John Boehner announced to fellow Republicans that he is resigning after 25 years in office, a House Democratic aide emailed me, “Trying to figure out if this helps or if we’re now totally screwed.” Congress showed other signs of chaos Friday morning. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor that he “was stunned” to find out about Boehner, and a press conference for Boehner at the Capitol was abruptly canceled. Instead, Boehner issued a statement:
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 Oct. 30.
Though religious conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington celebrated over the news, Boehner's departure isn't a clear win or loss for the party's Tea Party faction.
The near-term impact is that Congress, which faced a October 1 deadline to fund the government, may avert a government shutdown. A conservative faction of the GOP has insisted on defunding Planned Parenthood, though many other Republicans, including Boehner, insisted that their efforts would be futile: A House bill to defund the organization would not get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. But Boehner also faced threats from members of his party calling for his ouster as speaker if he passed a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) with Democratic support. Now, the House will vote on defunding Planned Parenthood in a separate budget reconciliation, which would be vetoed by the president. According to an aide from House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers’s office, the House is expected next week to pass a clean Senate continuing resolution—that is, one that doesn't defund Planned Parenthood.
So both the government and Planned Parenthood likely will be funded, at least until the next GOP-manufactured crisis. Longer-term, it’s less clear what conservatives get out of this.
Boehner’s resignation sets off the inevitable scramble for leadership positions. Conservatives hope to elect a leader who doesn't take accept the limits of controlling the House of Representatives in a divided government. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the favorite to become the next speaker, and is more popular among Boehner’s critics. And then what? Do Republicans promise to shut down the government every time they don’t get their way, whether it’s Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, or Iran? Or do they pressure McCarthy to quit if he doesn’t get them everything they want?
That's what Democrats forsee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Boehner's resignation shows how the House majority has been “hijacked by the fringe element of the Republican Party,” while Reid tweeted, “By ousting a good man like Speaker Boehner—someone who understood the art of compromise—the party of Eisenhower and Reagan is no more.”
It's now more like the party of Donald Trump.
This article has been updated.