The Short List to Replace House Speaker John Boehner

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Boehner packing up his trademark hankies, merlot and Camels.

WASHINGTON — Plunging Congress into deeper turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly announced his resignation Friday, shutting down a tea party drive to depose the nation’s highest-ranking Republican but opening up fresh troubles for the GOP. Boehner, who shocked official Washington with the abrupt announcement, said that he made the final decision to announce his resignation on Friday morning and told his staff shortly before a closed-door meeting of fellow Republicans.The “regular guy with a big job” has seemed at the center of palace intrigue forever, a man to shake things up in the old days, to be plotted against on and off ever since. The 13-term Ohio lawmaker, second in line to the presidency, shocked his rank-and-file when he told them of his plans in an emotional closed-door meeting. Boehner said the decision “isn’t about me” but is meant to help preserve the institution of Congress as he faces the strongest challenge to his gavel to date. “I don’t want to put my colleagues through this.

There was nothing regular about John Boehner’s rise and fall and rise and fall in the House, nothing constant except that tan and the smoke-filled rooms wherever he was allowed to light up. A firm opponent of abortion rights, he was essentially undone by disaffection from conservatives who want to push an anti-abortion struggle over Planned Parenthood financing to the point of closing the government, a step too far for him. Boehner has been under prolonged pressure from conservatives in his party, who have accused him of failing to fight the Obama administration on issues important to the GOP. The Republican schism will resurface quickly Monday, as Congress begins voting on whether to fund the government past Wednesday night, when money is due to run out. He was once one of the agitators — a member of the Newt Gingrich Gang of Seven who seized the Republican congressional agenda, then the reins of House power, in the 1990s.

We’ve got ’em all.” Asked about a possible scenario for ending the 2013 partial government shutdown, he said: “If ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, then every day would be Christmas.” He’s been known to start singing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay, my, oh my, what a wonderful day” to the press and, indeed, mixed bits of the song into his resignation news conference Friday. Boehner’s announcement came one day after a high point of his congressional career, a historic speech by Pope Francis to Congress at the speaker’s request.

The 65-year-old Boehner was never one to hold back his exasperation with recalcitrance in his own ranks as well as frustrations with what he saw as a slippery negotiating partner in President Barack Obama. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio announced the news and told the crowd that “the time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country.” An aide to Boehner said that the Ohio Republican had planned to serve only through the end of last year, but that the stunning primary loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor changed that calculation. In 2008, leading House Republicans in the minority, he lectured draggy members to get off their “dead asses.” He accused Obama of moving goalposts in budget brinkmanship and trying to “annihilate” the GOP. Obama had his own frustrations with the speaker, although his most memorable line about Boehner was a tease about his tan. “He is a person of color,” Obama cracked in 2009, suggesting a common racial heritage. “Although not a color that appears in the natural world.” Both smiled over that.

Of his resignation, he said, “Frankly, I am entirely comfortable doing it” — and he broke into a brief refrain of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to demonstrate his point. Boehner summed up the lawmakers he was overseeing this way in 2011 to the Wall Street Journal columnist and Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan: “We got some of the smartest people in the country who serve here, and some of the dumbest. House Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ryan, considered a possible successor to the outgoing House speaker, told reporters Friday that he is not interested in pursuing the job. But Boehner will leave behind a stack of other problems, including the new December funding deadline, a crucial highway bill, and the annual battle over the federal borrowing limit. Which means, orange really is the new black.” “Listen, I play golf, I ride a bike, I cut my own grass, my mother is dark-complected, so I’m a little dark,” he told Jay Leno last year. “There’s no tanning beds, no spray anything, never, not once ever, ever nothing.” Boehner isn’t shy about his fondness for a nice wine and a drag on a Camel (the brand he took up when his beloved Barclays were discontinued).

And it’s not clear that the next speaker will have any easier time taming the unruly tea party lawmakers who forced Boehner out, or making the deals with the White House and Senate Republicans that Boehner habitually cut to keep the gears of government running. He related to reporters an emotional story about speaking with Pope Francis during the visit, saying that he implored the House speaker to “pray for me.”

He finds symbolism in what others might call vices. “All you need to know about the differences between the president and myself is that I’m sitting there smoking a cigarette, drinking merlot, and I look across the table and here is the president of the United States drinking iced tea and chomping on Nicorette.” Boehner frequently reminisces about the life lessons he learned as a kid who “grew up in a bar” — a Cincinnati-area tavern called Andy’s Cafe, opened by his grandfather and run by his father for decades. “And you have to learn to deal with every jackass that walks in the door,” the speaker said last year. “Trust me, I need all the skills I learned growing up to do my job.” Second oldest in a Catholic family of 12 in the northern Cincinnati suburb of Reading, Boehner swept floors in his father’s bar, played high-school football and worked his way through university. He joined the Vietnam War-era Navy, lasted only weeks because of back problems, returned to college and climbed the ranks of a plastics and packaging company to the top.

There he soon became a lieutenant of the rabble-rousing Gingrich, who as mid-1990s speaker steered him to No. 4 in House leadership, with a plush office and a taste of power and the high life for a man who loves his Merlot wine and golfing. Outside tea party groups also declared victory, underscoring a schism between conservative base voters and establishment leaders that has made Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nearly as scorned in some quarters of the GOP as Obama himself. At a meeting of the Values Voters Summit in Washington where religious conservatives were gathered to hear from GOP presidential candidates, attendees and some candidates alike erupted in extended applause and cheers at the news Boehner was stepping aside. “You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington?” Texas Sen.

He had enjoyed one of his career’s defining moments Thursday when Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress and met privately with Boehner, a devout Catholic. “I woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this,” he told reporters of his surprise decision. “As simple as that.” He wouldn’t say his emotional visit with the pope influenced his decision, but he almost broke down Friday when describing the encounter. “The Pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says please pray for me. My only request is, ‘Can you come more often?'” Several conservatives made clear they would now be gunning for McConnell, and presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, called on the Senate leader to resign.

Steve Stivers, R-Ohio. “He gets to go out on a high note, the pope.” The prospect of more challenges from conservatives weighed on him as well. “It is my view…that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” Boehner said. His tenure has been defined by his early struggles to reach budget agreements with Obama and his wrestling with the expectations of tea party conservatives. Boehner was first elected to the House in 1990 and soon established a strongly conservative record, becoming part of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership team when Republicans took control in 1995 for the first time in four decades.

He was elected speaker after the Tea Party-fueled 2010 elections gave Republicans control of the House, but he never embraced the grassroots movement. On Friday aides circulated a list of accomplishments including banning earmarks, enacting money-saving reforms to Medicare this year, and leading education reforms. Boehner said McCarthy would make an “excellent speaker.” Conservatives’ incremental progress could be evident, since next in line behind McCarthy is Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, one of those usually on the list of possible successors. “But I am committed to supporting leaders who will keep our promise to the American people to fight for real change in Washington.” Boehner is just one congressional domino conservatives want to topple. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. “And they will not be able to repeal those mathematics until the rule in the Senate changes.” McConnell has declined to change the 60-vote threshold rule.

Next month features the appearance of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, before the House Benghazi Committee, created by Boehner to mollify the conservatives. Likely are renewed efforts to derail the Export-Import Bank, toughen immigration laws and chip away at Obamacare. 2015 and 2016 may not see great success, but more seeds were planted Friday. Contributing: Franco Ordonez, Sean Cockerham and Lindsey Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau and Don Worthington of The Herald in Rock Hill, South Carolina

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