Boehner resigning as Speaker

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerJohn Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince House GOP budget 'SWAT' team is formed GOP rep to retire, opening 10th Florida seat MORE told GOP lawmakers on Friday he will resign at the end of October, capping a tumultuous four-and-half-year reign in which he repeatedly clashed with unruly conservatives in his own party.

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BoehnerJohn BoehnerJohn Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince House GOP budget 'SWAT' team is formed GOP rep to retire, opening 10th Florida seat MORE (R-Ohio) cast his decision as an effort to protect the House, and an aide said he would have retired at the end of last year if then-House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorJohn Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince The Trail 2016: Dems struggle for unity Overnight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge MORE (R-Va.) had not suffered a stunning primary loss.

"The first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution that we all love," Boehner said.

"It was my plan to only serve as Speaker until the end of last year, but I stayed on to provide continuity to the Republican Conference and the House.

It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. To that end, I will resign the Speakership and my seat in Congress on October 30."

Boehner's decision comes as Congress is struggling to find a way to fund the government — and his leadership has become a part of that struggle. Conservatives unhappy with his style have repeatedly threatened to seek to unseat him.
 
But the Speaker's decision to leave likely shrinks chances of a government shutdown next week.
 
Conservatives had said they would be watching his steps on a government-funding plan, and demanded that the Speaker take action to halt federal funds for Planned Parenthood as part of a measure to keep the government open.
 
GOP leaders in both the House and the Senate have criticized that strategy, saying it could lead to a shutdown that would hurt Republicans in the 2016 elections. 
 
Now that he doesn't have to worry about his job, it will be easier for Boehner to move a short-term funding bill next week with support from Democrats.

While Boehner has been under constant fire from conservatives for not doing more to restrain the federal government, he said that under his leadership much had been accomplished.

“My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government," he said in a statement. "Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children. I am proud of what we have accomplished.

“Today, my heart is full with gratitude for my family, my colleagues, and the people of Ohio’s Eighth District," he concluded. "God bless this great country that has given me — the son of a bar owner from Cincinnati — the chance to serve."

The latest spending fight is just a microcosm of Boehner's long-standing problems in running the Republican conference, which has repeatedly bucked his direction.
 
His announcement also follows one of the biggest moments of his career: Pope Francis's visit to Capitol Hill and address to Congress. It was long a goal of Boehner's to have a pope address the Congress, and he had difficulty on Thursday keeping his emotions in check.
 
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) emerged from the private House meeting to say that members were “stunned” when Boehner announced his decision.

“Everybody’s still in sort of a state of shock,” he said.

According to Mica, Boehner told members that he thought opposition to his role as Speaker was becoming a distraction from broader policy debates.

“He just does not want to become the issue,” said Mica. “Some people have tried to make him the issue, both in Congress and outside.

“We’ll just have to regroup. We faced challenges before.”

Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, a fellow Ohio Republican and close Boehner ally, described the room as "somber."

The famously emotional Boehner shed some tears, as did many other lawmakers.

"You have to put up with a lot of crap when you're Speaker, and he's put up with a lot of it," Chabot said, emerging from the meeting. "I hope the next person on the next team will bring this conference together and do what's necessary to move this country forward."

A GOP lawmaker in the room said the meeting also had moments of laughter. Boehner and lawmakers joked about his favorite endearing term for his colleagues: "shithead."

Even the Speaker's closest friends didn't get a heads-up. Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Boehner's staunchest defenders, said he was in the dark until Friday's bombshell. 
 
Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersThe Trail 2016: Sanders who? Senior Trump aide assures conservatives on court picks Top female House Republican endorses Trump MORE (R-Wash.) said someone slipped her a note right before the meeting saying Boehner would resign. 
 
Thoughts immediately turned to who might succeed Boehner. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is seen as one strong possibility. 

"I assume Kevin McCarthy would likely succeed him," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

The Hill reported last week that conservatives were warming to the idea of McCarthy as Speaker, as part of a coalition that would also include other conservative lawmakers. 

Members of the House Freedom Caucus had held informal conversations about such a coalition, with one conservative lawmaker personally informing McCarthy over the summer recess of the discussions, and that he would have his support. 
 
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has already been approaching colleagues about a potential leadership run, lawmakers say.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus who has been a thorn in Boehner's side in recent weeks, said the Speaker had "served with honor and distinction and his resignation was done with real class."

Meadows, before Congress's August recess, introduced a measure that could have led to Boehner's ouster. Since then, he and other conservatives had suggested they might try to force a vote on the measure to end Boehner's Speakership.

On Friday, Meadows said he would not run for the position.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally, rejected some members' claims that the departure was the result of internal party pressure.

“Don’t think for a minute that he was forced out,” Cole said. “Any kind of contest he’s ever been in he’s won one-handedly, and I think that would have happened again if anybody had the nerve to challenge him.”

Cole added that too many House conservatives had been unfairly blaming Boehner for circumstances beyond his control.

“For four years, he’s been both the point of the spear and the goalie at the same time — technically both offense and defense, by himself,” he said. “It’s disappointing, some on our own team haven’t thought about that and understood the difficulties he had and the support he deserved. He earned it.”

“I don’t think anybody is irreplaceable, but I think he’s as close as it gets around here,” Cole said.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats had kind words for Boehner.
 
“Speaker John Boehner is a decent, principled conservative man who tried to do the right thing under almost impossible circumstances," Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (N.Y.), likely to be the next Senate Democratic leader, said in a statement.  
 
"He will be missed by Republicans and Democrats alike," Schumer added.
 
“Let us hope the Republican majority, which Speaker Boehner played a large role in creating, learns the right lesson from his resignation: to work with Democrats in a constructive way, rather than let a handful of extreme right-wingers dictate his party’s policy.”

—Peter Schroeder and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report. This post has been updated.