Update: This piece was updated at noon.
House Speaker John Boehner stunned Washington on Friday by announcing that he will step down from his leadership post and resign from Congress by the end of October.
The move ends Mr. Boehner’s long struggle over goals and tactics with the restive conservative faction of the House GOP. But it could lead to a more immediate, open, and contentious fight between the tea party and establishment wings of the party over leadership posts, spending bills, and even the upcoming 2016 presidential race.
“This will set off an unbelievable scramble,” tweeted Politico staff writer Jake Sherman in the wake of the announcement, echoing the sentiments of reporters throughout the nation’s capital.
Quick reaction: Perhaps a fall government shutdown is now less likely. Speaker Boehner was facing a revolt from the right due to his evident reluctance to force a shutdown over the issue of stripping Planned Parenthood of its government funding. Many members said after his resignation announcement that the trade off seemed clear: Boehner would now join with Democrats to pass the budget over conservative objections, then leave the House.
But the longer-term outlook on this issue isn’t so clear. Winning the intra-party vote to replace Boehner may require a promise to the right to use the congressional power of the purse to press future legislative conflicts. The legislative balance of power doesn’t favor the GOP on this tactic, due to the power President Obama’s veto pen and the blocking ability of the Democratic minority in the Senate. But many GOP members, as well as substantial numbers of the party’s base voters, have been hungering for a confrontation. Now they’ll probably get one.
Quick reaction, Part 2: Boehner went out on a personal high note. He is well-known for public emotions and for his devout Catholicism. On Thursday, he stood at the West Front of the US Capitol with Pope Francis, and looked down at a huge crowd gathered below. He tried, and largely failed, to keep from crying.
Now he’s chosen to leave on his own terms. It’s unlikely he would have actually fallen to a procedural vote calling for his ouster, as Georgetown University government affairs expert Joshua Huder explained this morning at Rule 22, a blog devoted to congressional issues.
“The only way John Boehner will vacate the speakership is if he decides he no longer wants the job,” Huder wrote, prior to Boehner’s move.
That’s exactly what happened.
Quick reaction, Part 3: This will have a real effect on the Republican Party’s choice of presidential nominee. Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives will now get to walk some ways down the path of legislative conflict, as they have urged. How voters react, and what that does to their chances of winning the nomination, remain to be seen.
But for reporters in Washington, the autumn months of 2015 now promise to be much more interesting.