WASHINGTON – In an emotion-filled press conference Friday, House Speaker John Boehner explained that his decision to resign as speaker and to leave the House of Representatives at the end of October was partly influenced by Pope Francis’s visit and was reached after saying evening prayers last night.
He told reporters he spent Thursday night thinking about the pope’s address to Congress and his “call to live by the golden rule.”
“As the pope and I were leaving the building, we found ourselves alone,” Boehner said. “The pope put his arm around me and said, ‘Please pray for me.’ I asked myself, ‘Who am I to pray for the pope?’”
Boehner said he originally had decided to announce his resignation last year, on his birthday, Nov. 17. He stayed on, he said, only because of the surprise defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Boehner insisted, “It isn’t that I have had enough.”
The question referenced his concern that an upcoming battle in the House over defunding Planned Parenthood that could lead to a vote to shutdown the government was not good for the Congress or the nation.
“This morning I woke up and went to Starbucks as usual, then I went over to Pete’s Diner for breakfast, and I went home and thought about it,” Boehner explained. “And I decided, ‘Well, I guess today is the day.’ So, I went in and told my staff I had decided to do it now. I was going to resign at the end of the year, so why not now?”
Watch Boehner’s comments about his resignation:
Asked what he will miss most about his position, Boehner said the “comradery,” including with members of the opposing party.
“Maxine Waters and I, a Democrat from Southern California, came here 25 years ago in the same class,” he recalled. “Yesterday, she called my office, and so I called her back. She said, ‘I watched you yesterday, and I was really proud of you,.’”
Waters was referring to Boehner’s hosting of the pope Thursday. The speaker was seen on camera numerous times during the day filled with emotion, wiping tears from his eyes.
By resigning, Boehner ended the possibility he might suffer a “no confidence” vote prompted by conservative members of the House who accuse the GOP leadership of abandoning 2014 campaign promises to oppose President Obama on key legislative measures, including Obamacare.
Earlier Friday, Boehner ignored questions from reporters as he walked a House hallway, giving only the slightest of indications about his state of mind and quipping: “It’s a wonderful day.”
He said in a written statement reported by CNN he was “full of gratitude” for the support of his colleagues and constituents.
He also wrote: “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 October 30.”
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., first alerted the national media of the Capitol Hill development when he put out a tweet: “Speaker Boehner just announced in Conference that he will resign as Speaker and from Congress at the end of October.”
The beleaguered speaker, 65, has been under pressure from members of his party’s right flank who contend he’s made too many concessions to President Obama and the Democratic Party’s leadership.
As WND previously reported, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., for instance, has been leading a charge to oust Boehner, offering a motion on the House floor – without any warning to political allies – to vacate the speaker’s chair in July, right before the House was due to recess. That effort failed, but Boehner’s popularity has hardly improved.
In fact, attendees at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., broke out in applause at the news of Boehner’s resignation. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., informed the audience of the speaker’s decision, and the crowd erupted in a standing ovation.
It’s not yet clear who’s making a run for the leadership role, though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is a front-runner is an early favorite. McCarthy, 50, was elected to Congress in 2006 and is well-known to Republican Conference members. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has already taken himself out of the running, saying the position’s “great” for “empty-nesters.”
Fox News analysts said Boehner’s decision is not an impulse move, but rather one he arrived at over a period of substantial consideration. Aides and allies say he’s putting the House of Representatives first and is reluctant to engage in a long, drawn-out battle to win re-election to the speaker role.
Brian Gardner, an analyst with KBW speaking to CNBC agreed.
“The speaker is taking one for the team,” he said. “He’s going to probably try and strike a deal that includes congressional Democrats, which would have been poison for a group of conservatives who would have rebelled against him. It’s a very fluid situation, but my immediate takeaway is that this decreases the likelihood of a government shutdown.”
One of Boehner’s aides confirmed that view, with the release of a statement to Politico.
“The speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” the aide said, the news outlet reported. “He is proud of what this majority has accomplished and his speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.”
The news comes as a new Fox News poll found 62 percent of Republicans said they believed their party had betrayed them by doing little to stop President Obama’s agenda from taking root – yet one more indicator of why the top three candidates in the GOP primary run for the presidency, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, are all political outsiders.