Rep. John Boehner is out. The Speaker of the House of Representatives since 2011 announced today that he will resign in October. Why? Well, that’s up for debate.
Some speculate that his closed-door meeting with the Pope yesterday might have had something to do with it. Following the visit, the devout Catholic proclaimed he had “nothing left to accomplish,” but it’s likely far more than that. As one aide for the leader stated:
“The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” the Boehner aide said. “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.”
The statement hints at non-papal reasons for his departure, which are probably a lot more salient. While Boehner is far from a moderate, he has increasingly found himself at odds with his own party. The GOP has swung substantially to the right under the influence of a growing Tea Party presence, and as candidates prepare to satiate an increasingly rabid base in the 2016 election cycle, the party has become even more dysfunctional on Capitol Hill. Rumbles of a leadership challenge have been growing larger by the day, especially following Boehner’s opposition to shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. This is what should give you pause.
It would be easy for progressives and those in favor of a strict separation of church and state to celebrate Boehner’s resignation. On a practical level, Boehner’s ability to control his party has eroded significantly with every passing year. On the issues, he has consistently inserted religion into the political process, and his track record on social issues is rather nauseating. But the driving forces behind his departure present a frightening picture of the state of the GOP.
His party doesn’t think that Boehner is conservative enough. Boehner — who scores an A with the NRA on gun control issues, who scores a 0% with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and NARAL, who has consistently opposed same-sex marriage, who has dedicated his career to slashing benefits for the needy and shutting down Obamacare — is too liberal for the current Republican party.
To be fair, Boehner’s likely successor is very similar to him. An establishment favorite, California Republican Kevin McCarthy is no Tea Party proponent and, as House Majority Whip, has done a fair job of wrangling freshman Tea Party reps on key votes. But he’s still rather green himself, having assumed office in 2014. As his colleagues dig in their heels to hedge against possible primary challengers calling them “faux conservatives,” the temptation to go with the flow may prove too strong. And as he jockeys for leadership, he may not even attempt to push back. As Boehner criticized plans to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding, McCarthy was all for it.
Boehner may not have been a friend of common sense, but the void he leaves isn’t exactly comforting either. Before throwing a party, we might want to prepare for what comes next.
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