John Boehner, citing "turmoil churning for months," announced on Friday that he is ending his five-year reign as speaker of the US House of Representatives at the end of October.
"My first job as speaker is to protect the institution," Boehner said at a press conference at the Capitol today, "It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution."
Boehner, a 13-term Congressman from Ohio, had originally planned on being speaker only until the end of last year, said an aid, but he stayed on after former House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor's departure.
Boehner's startling announcement indicates the increasingly shaky confidence in his leadership both in and outside the Capitol building. Boehner is facing intense pressure from House Republicans over whether to shut down the government — conservatives want him to defund Planned Parenthood — with more than 30 Republican Congressmen threatening to hold a zero-confidence vote on Boehner's leadership. This vote would cause Boehner to lose significant political capital, either by offering concessions to the group of conservative Republicans or being forced to reach over the aisle to his Democratic counterparts to save his job.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Boehner's resignation a "seismic" change and a "sign of the failure of the House Republicans to engage in dialogue for the good of the American people."
Despite being faced with the threat of a possible coup, Boehner has projected confidence in recent weeks.
"Look, this group of guys is not going to knock me off my stride," Boehner said at a private Republican fundraiser last week, reported the Hill.
But Boehner's confidence has apparently wavered. His resignation indicates a broader growing dissatisfaction in the "institutional competence" of Republican leaders among voters, says Bill Whelan, a political research fellow at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institute. The speaker's announcement comes just two days after a Fox News poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans feel "betrayed" by the politicians of their party and that the Republican majorities failed to do everything they could to stop President Obama's agenda.
The growing frustration among Republican voters in their party is a troubling trend heading into presidential election season, says Whelan, which could be reflected in Republican voter turnout next November. This is regardless of who the eventual nominee is, because "if you're so upset with your party and so disappointed with your lawmakers, you just say, 'Why bother?'" said Whelan.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, from California, is thought to be the front-runner to replace Boehner.
Boehner's announcement comes a day after Pope Francis gave a speech to a joint session of Congress calling on leaders for unity and peace. Boehner, who is Catholic, was visibly moved by the pontiff's speech.
"Boehner told reporters that he had nothing left to accomplish after bringing the Pope to the Capitol," reported Politico.
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