Late last year, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) closest allies, said of the Ohio Republican, “He’s never wanted to just be Speaker. He’s wanted to be a historically significant Speaker.”
And in a way, Boehner is poised to become exactly that. There’s no modern precedent for a Speaker simply quitting in the middle of a Congress – but that’s exactly what the GOP leader is doing.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner will resign as Speaker and leave his seat at the end of October, NBC News has confirmed.A Boehner aide told NBC News that the Speaker “believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. 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.”
This is nothing short of stunning. There’s been increasingly loud chatter on Capitol Hill about right-wing House members plotting a coup against the Speaker, but by most measures, the rebellious members lacked the numbers to pull it off. Most believed Boehner would continue to serve, at least through the end of next year.
But those assessments are suddenly being thrown out the window. The beleaguered, often hapless Speaker isn’t just ready to give up his gavel, he’s walking away from the institution in which he’s served for nearly a quarter-century.
First Update: The Boehner aide who spoke to NBC said Boehner is concerned about ”prolonged leadership turmoil,” but at least some turmoil is now inevitable. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was ousted last year in a primary, which leaves current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) next in line. The California Republican, however, is already the least experienced floor leader in congressional history, and there will be credible questions as to whether he’s genuinely prepared for a position that would leave him second in the line of presidential succession.
There are rumors this morning that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) may make a run for Boehner’s gavel, but the scuttlebutt has not been confirmed. Given the state of the House GOP caucus, it’s not altogether clear why anyone would want this job anyway.
Second Update: Democrats who may welcome the departure of a hapless Republican Speaker should probably be careful what they wish for. Boehner’s replacement will almost certainly be even further to the right, even less interested in compromise, and even more committed to dangerous brinkmanship.
Third Update: Boehner will depart Congress with a troubled legacy. Over the course of nearly five years as Speaker, the Ohio Republican shut down the government, deliberately initiated the nation’s first modern debt-ceiling crisis, helped create conditions in which the House careened from one self-imposed crisis to the next every few months, and routinely found that his own members ignored his attempts at leadership.
His aide said Boehner is “proud of what this majority has accomplished,” but it’s not at all clear that it’s accomplished much of anything.