Why John Boehner resigns on his own terms

'The only way John Boehner will vacate the speakership is if he decides he no longer wants the job.' On Friday, that's just what he did.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio holds a news conference following a House Republican caucus meeting at the US Capitol in Washington on Sept. 9, 2015. Boehner announced on Friday that he will resign his speakership and his seat in Congress, effective Oct. 30.

Update: John Boehner resigned the speakership on Sept. 25, 2015.

This is the week Speaker John Boehner will supposedly face a vote to remove him from the speakership on the House floor. Don’t buy the hype. Amid multiple headlines claiming Speaker Boehner is facing his most strident rebellion yet, it’s important to keep the procedural context in mind. The only way John Boehner will vacate the speakership is if he decides he no longer wants the job.

Some have claimed they can force a vote to remove Boehner through a “privileged resolution.” Privileged status doesn’t guarantee a vote. Privileged status means a member can interrupt regular business to bring up a bill up. But it does not guarantee that it will be considered. For example, several current bills with privileged status remain in limbo. Agriculture, Financial Services, DHS, Interior and Environment, State and Foreign Ops appropriations bills are all privileged but have yet to receive a vote. Until the speaker officially recognizes a member on the floor, even a privileged bill will fail to be debated, let alone receive a vote. Greg Koger has a nice summary of how that kind of conversation would unfold on the floor. That is a key point. The speaker must recognize a member for the explicit purpose of bringing forward a vote to fire him. It’s not likely.

Another consideration is that the current resolution is not written in privileged form. In other words, the only way the current resolution, sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows (R) of North Carolina would come to the floor is through the Rules Committee – which is handpicked by the speaker – or by the suspension of the rules – which would require a two-thirds majority to vacate the chair. Neither of those routes are particularly likely either.

This is a pressure campaign. The right wing of the caucus is attempting to place enough pressure on Boehner that he is forced to step aside so [insert unknown and unclear successor here] can lead a divided and unwieldy majority. It should be noted, it is a pressure campaign the right has waged, on and off, for nearly four years. It’s possible Boehner folds to the pressure. Many lieutenants are reportedly jockeying for jobs, anticipating a potential chance to move up the leadership ladder. But the chances Boehner is fired prior to the shutdown are practically zero, and the likelihood he’s removed at all are slim.

The speaker may be politically weak but procedurally he’s very strong. And for all intents and purposes, Boehner retains the power to determine his own retirement.

Joshua Huder publishes his Rule 22 blog at http://rule22.wordpress.com.

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