US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner will step down and leave the House at the end of October after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber’s top Republican.
The Ohio lawmaker, 65, stunned Republican House members at a morning meeting on Friday with the announcement he will leave the top job in the 435-seat chamber and resign his seat effective on Oct. 30.
U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, 50, of California, the No. 2 House Republican, quickly became the leading contender to replace Boehner as speaker. McCarthy has been loyal to Boehner during his frequent tussles with conservatives, but in recent months has tacked to the right.
In a statement Boehner said he was stepping aside to avoid another brewing House battle over his leadership. Conservatives had threatened a House revolt and possible government shutdown over spending next week.
“It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” Boehner said.
He scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).
His decision to step down appeared to ease the threat of a government shutdown next week. Many Republicans said it would free him to forge ahead with a “clean” spending bill that does not withhold funding from the women’s reproductive health group Planned Parenthood without fear of reprisal from conservatives who object to the group’s abortion services.
But the battle over his successor could coincide with fights later this year over government spending and raising the federal debt limit, adding more uncertainty for financial markets.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a longtime foe of Boehner, said the move would be “a distraction” during the spending debate and called his decision “seismic to the House.”
Only the day before, Boehner, a Catholic, realized a longtime goal of hosting Pope Francis for an address to Congress and broke down in tears as he stood with the pope to greet crowds on the Capitol’s West front.
Boehner brushed past reporters and did not answer questions as he left the Friday morning meeting, saying only, “It’s a wonderful day.”
PRESSURE OVER OBAMA
Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation.
“I saw him recently and he looked weary. Understandably, he was tired,” US Senator John McCain, also a Republican, told reporters. “Sometimes we fail to appreciate that these are human beings with human emotions and lives to lead.”
Boehner said in his statement that he had planned to serve as speaker only through the end of last year but he changed his calculation when his No. 2 at the time, Eric Cantor, lost his seat last year in a Republican primary.
Representative Paul Ryan, a former US vice presidential candidate, told reporters in a Capitol hallway that McCarthy would likely be the next speaker. Ryan said, “I don’t want to be speaker.”
McCarthy shifted to the right of Boehner this year by abandoning support for renewing the charter of the US Export-Import Bank. Conservatives successfully killed renewal of the bank’s charter, arguing government should not meddle by picking economic winners and losers. Ex-Im offers financing to foreign buyers of US goods.
“Now is the time for our conference to focus on healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead and always do what is best for the American people,” McCarthy said in a statement.
There was no immediate market reaction.
Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors, said: “The near-term news is good in that it suggests that Boehner is going to get a clean bill through as his last act as Speaker, but the question becomes what happens post-Halloween and who the new speaker is going to be.”
The son of a bar owner and one of 12 children, Boehner is the only college graduate in his family. He grew up in Cincinnati and served in the US Navy in 1969, then became a small businessman before launching a political career.
On Thursday evening as Boehner left the Capitol, he told two reporters – one from Politico and another from the Washington Post – that he had nothing left to accomplish after bringing Pope Francis to the Capitol, Politico reported.