For months, the political scuttlebutt has been that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will give up his gavel and retire at the end of this Congress, and for months, Boehner's aides have said the rumors aren't true.
But Ryan Grim and Jon Ward reported yesterday that the Speaker's former aides and a variety of high-level GOP operatives are "increasingly convinced" he will step down after the 2014 midterms. A former Republican leadership aide who is part of Boehner's circle told the Huffington Post reporters, "Everybody around him thinks this is his last term."
Despite the effort by Boehner to tamp down speculation that he will depart the House after the 2014 midterms, multiple cooks in Boehner's kitchen cabinet think the Republican is still strongly considering making his exit just over a year from now."I'd be surprised if he did [stay]," said one former senior aide to Boehner, who, like many consulted for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships. (HuffPost spoke to four top former Boehner aides, two current aides, five former leadership aides close to Boehner's inner circle, and a GOP operative on familiar terms with his circle.)
Part of the trouble, of course, is that Boehner is the weakest House Speaker in recent memory -- he has very little control, or even influence, over what his caucus does -- and the Ohio Republican may lack the support he'd need to hold onto the Speaker's gavel in 2015 and beyond.
"It's probably not up to him," said one GOP operative. "The natural assumption is that he leaves. It's the overwhelming, working assumption as people are making strategy going into 2015 and 2016."
It's obviously difficult to say with certainty whether these assumptions are accurate, but for the sake of conversation, the implications of Boehner's possible retirement are extremely significant. Indeed, the more likely it is that the Speaker will give up his post, the more likely it is that this Congress will be less ridiculous over the next year and a half.
Indeed, I desperately hope the report from Grim and Ward is true, because it means the dream of governing in the near future is not yet dead.
Jon Chait's take rings true.
[I]f Boehner feels liberated to flee the House, then suddenly all sorts of governing possibilities open up. He can lift the debt ceiling and keep the government running. He could sign immigration reform, even cut a deal on the budget. There's probably a majority in the House for all these things -- it's just a majority consisting mainly of Democrats along with a handful of Republicans. Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf.
Quite right. As longtime readers know, my Grand Unified Theory of Boehner is that the Speaker actually has sound political instincts -- he wants to strike deals, pass bills, and get some stuff done, but none of this has happened in the last three years because House Republicans just won't let him be responsible. It's precisely why Boehner so often looks weak and feckless -- because he's been pushed around by his radicalized members who have no interest in his attempts at "leadership."
The Speaker has gone along with this, letting his followers lead him, because he wants to keep his hands on that gavel. If, however, Boehner is planning his exit, the calculus changes -- with retirement comes freedom. He wouldn't have to be held hostage to his unhinged base; he could abandon the "Hastert Rule"; he could give up on the never-ending series of hostage crises; and legislation could start passing for a change.
Let's not forget, prominent lawmakers are often mindful of history, and want to be remembered for having used their time in power wisely. At this point, Boehner's list of accomplishments as Speaker is literally non-existent. That could change, though, if he's ready to walk away and wants to rack up some successes before he goes.
"But wait," I can hear the skeptics saying. "If Boehner starts governing responsibly, won't House Republicans just revolt immediately and kick him out?"
Maybe they'd try, but as a procedural matter, it's extremely difficult for the House to oust a sitting Speaker during the legislative term.
If Boehner is serious about retirement, I suspect he's aware of this.