WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner got to write his own ending on Friday. He is going to quit Congress on Oct. 31 to clear the way for someone else to try to deal with a GOP faction steadfastly against compromise and President Barack Obama.
Boehner’s departure could provide an opportunity for Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. who last year lost a bid for a top leadership post. A scramble among current leaders to move up in the wake of Boehner’s departure could provide an opening for Roskam lower down the leadership ladder. As of Friday night, Roskam has not ruled anything out.
A day after hosting Pope Francis at the Capitol, Boehner called a press conference and declared: “This morning, 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 came in singing a bit of the lyrics of the Disney classic, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, “My, oh my, what a wonderful day!”
Boehner surprised everybody.
“My goal was to leave at the end of this year. So I planned, actually, on my birthday, November 17, to announce that I was leaving at the end of the year,” Boehner said.
“But it’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution. So, this morning, informed my colleagues I would resign from the speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October.”
The tumult Boehner is referring to is the stark divide among House Republicans that Boehner has been unable to bridge.
Boehner, R-Ohio, has had to juggle conservatives who are philosophically opposed to cutting deals — government shutdowns are OK by them — and the realists who know that with a Democratic president, Republicans have to compromise, even if they have majorities in the House and Senate.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., was in the room Friday morning when Boehner stunned his colleagues with the announcement of his departure.
“There was an outpouring of gratitude for him and what he’s done and how he has handled himself” Hultgren told me when we talked Friday afternoon.
Nonetheless, Hultgren said it was time for a leadership change.
Boehner “has had an impact, not as much as we would like, not as much as our constituents would like,” Hultgren said.
I asked Hultgren what the profile of the next speaker should be. “Someone with a plan” to pull the factions together, a leader who can “empower the members,” “stand up for Republican principles” and to the Democratic president.
The emerging frontrunner to replace Boehner is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Roskam said in a statement: “I am hopeful that during this season of change, House Republicans will focus on a plan to get us out of our dysfunctional state, and not just settle for a change in ranks.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger R-Ill., gave Boehner credit for advancing a conservative agenda; he’s not buying what the anti-Boehner critics were asserting.
“Despite presiding over the House during very challenging times for America, Speaker Boehner helped move our country forward, tirelessly advancing conservative, pro-growth policies and reforms,” Kinzinger said in a statement.
Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., said Democrats and Republicans need to work together — something some of his GOP colleagues don’t want to do.
“Regardless of who leads this body next, to address the steep challenges we continue to face as a nation, we must pursue unity over division and commit to advancing bipartisan solutions for the American people,” Dold said in a statement.
In a statement, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said Boehner “is the only speaker to ever visit my hometown of Taylorville, Illinois, and his leadership has allowed me to advance the priorities of my constituents, and for that I am forever grateful.”