Boehner
Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

House Speaker John A. Boehner announced that he would be resigning from Congress in an emotional meeting with his fellow Republicans in the wake of a potential government shutdown. He said that he would relinquish his gavel and resign, undone by the very Republicans who had placed him into the position of power.

In the Wake of Controversy and Pressure

Before announcing his departure, Boehner had been under constant and heavy pressure from conservatives to shut down the government if Democrats did not agree to defund Planned Parenthood. There was even a threat that they would throw him out if he didn’t accede to their wishes, using what could be described as a “sword of Damocles” style of coup. Mr. Boehner, however, told no one of his decision before actually making it last September 25.

His downfall highlights the rather intricate and convoluted power of a Republic Party faction that strongly opposes every government action. It also showed how precarious the nature of his job really is, wherein the will and proclivities of a politically divisive body must be maintained and managed. Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., who held the gavel from 1977 to 1986, is the only house speaker to have resigned and left his job willingly.

Many critics say that Mr. Boehner had been pressured throughout his entire tenure to push for deeper spending cuts and more aggressive policy changes than were possible with President Obama in the White House. From the moment he became speaker in 2011, he had to manage the challenges of a government that seemed divided, while holding together his fractious and increasingly conservative Republican members.

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Despite this, his decision to leave willingly was a smart move. For a man who has been exhausted throughout his years as House Speaker, facing a potentially humiliating fight with members of his own party seems like the last thing he wants.

John Boehner
Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Boehner explains, “My first job as Speaker is to protect the institution. It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”

The former House Speaker’s resignation had the unintended side effect of lessening the chance of a government shutdown. This is because Republican leaders and democrats alike will go forward with a short-term funding measure to keep the government operational. Boehner said that he would leave at the end of October, with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California being the leading candidate to replace him; the latter, being viewed more favorably by the House’s more conservative members.

Whoever the replacement will be, that person will inherit the complicated dynamics and working relationships that bedeviled Mr. Boehner.