Intransigent House conservatives won’t have John Boehner to kick around anymore. The Speaker, who has served in his post for five tumultuous years, announced Friday morning that he will retire at the end of October, surrendering his gavel.
Boehner’s exit comes simultaneously on a high note — one day after Pope Francis’ historic visit to the Capitol — and a low one: In the midst of another toxic government shutdown fight, with a restive flank of Tea Party conservatives known as the Freedom Caucus demanding a do-or-die attack to defund Planned Parenthood.
Boehner’s exit plan makes that shutdown unlikely. He is expected to bring a “clean” budget bill to the floor of the House next week, which will continue funding the government, including Planned Parenthood. It’s the kind of move that will enrage conservatives — who had already been plotting his removal. But that’s not a concern after today.
Boehner said his retirement is designed to prevent “prolonged leadership turmoil” that would cause “irreparable damage to the institution.” And this truly is Boehner’s legacy. He is an institutionalist. He set out to accomplish things — see: the “Grand Bargain” he tried to negotiate with President Obama — but was consistently undercut by Tea Party ideologues who wanted nothing to do with compromise.
But Boehner will instead be remembered for his willingness to make himself look like a feckless fool — often for weeks on end — to prevent this nihilistic crew from wreaking havoc, through Congress, on the American economy.
Suffering scorn and abuse from inside his own conference, the Speaker kept America from defaulting on its debts. And it now appears he is committed enough to keeping the lights on in Washington that he’d prefer to give up his job, rather than getting backed into another feckless federal shutdown. Boehner’s retirement won’t offer resolution to this destructive dynamic in Congress, but it will make it somebody else’s problem.
The Speaker’s decision has shocked his colleagues and seems to have come to him quite suddenly: “Last night I started thinking about this, and I woke up. I said my prayers as I always do, and I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this,” Boehner said in a tearful press conference. “As simple as that.”