House Speaker John Boehner: Would resigning be a smart move?

A Huffington Post report suggests that House Speaker John Boehner will resign his post in 2014. He's given no indication of that publicly, but some say it could help him leave a legacy.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington Tuesday, following a meeting between President Obama and congressional leaders to discuss the situation in Syria.

Will House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio resign his leadership post in 2014?

That's what The Huffington Post is reporting this week. After speaking to four top former Boehner aides, two current aides, five former leadership aides close to Boehner's inner circle, and a GOP operative, The Huffington Post said Boehner will step down after the midterm election, frustrated by his hard-to-steer caucus.

Mr. Boehner himself has suggested the opposite, saying earlier this summer that he’ll be sticking around. But one former senior aide to Boehner told The Huffington Post: "I'd be surprised if he did" stay.

Assuming the report rings true, what would Boehner's political epitaph be? Is he a casualty of his party’s divide between tea party conservatives and more moderate members? Or has he, in his inability to build agreement around a slew of issues from Syria to immigration reform, furthered the ongoing intra-GOP feuding?

“John Boehner may or may not retire at the end of this term,” writes Ezra Klein of The Washington Post. “But Boehner does not want to go down as the guy who managed the two least-productive, least-popular congresses of all time, and whose greatest accomplishments were convincing his members not to shut down the government or breach the debt ceiling. According to the Huffington Post, before he retires, he wants at least one legacy-building accomplishment. He’ll even stay in Congress to get it.”

Some suggest Boehner has more to gain personally, in terms of his legacy, if he has decided to vacate the post – even if he doesn’t say as much publicly. That frees him from being beholden to the more strident wing of the GOP.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes that “a small minority of the most extreme Republicans have managed to keep Boehner on a leash by threatening to depose him as Speaker if he displeases them.”

A decision to say farewell to his position would allow him to lift the debt ceiling and keep government afloat, Mr. Chait says. Or he could work toward a budget deal. The moves require aligning centrist Republicans with the bulk of Democrats, however.

“Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf,” Chait writes.

Boehner survived an effort to oust him in January. Twelve Republican lawmakers defected from the speaker’s camp, and with the GOP’s narrow majority, that provided for “a very tense final few minutes of the vote,” according to The Washington Post. He surpassed the 214 votes required for victory by six members.

With Boehner’s announcement this week that he’ll vote to give President Obama authority to take military action in Syria, he’s angering conservative factions anew. And others have said the immigration reform debate placed his speakership in peril, with many Republicans worried that he would force them to vote on a reform bill they don't want as part of an effort to woo Hispanics to the GOP.

 Most agree that he’s vulnerable to another challenge if the GOP keeps its majority in 2014.

So who might want his gig ruling over such an unwieldy crew?

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia is certainly a – maybe the – leading contender. During that January vote, three conservatives backed him over Boehner. But most believe he would not challenge Boehner, should the speaker decide to stay on. Another possible contender is Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, according to The Huffington Post.

In the meantime, the ‘Will he or won’t he?’ speculation will likely continue. And the conservative base is growing ever more dissatisfied with the current gavel holder. The 2012 cries in the blogosphere to fire him could be heard again this fall.

And even if he wants to hold on to the job, The Huffington Post suggests: “It’s not at all clear he could win.”

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