POLITICS
09/25/2015 09:38 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2015

John Boehner To Resign From Congress At End Of October

The speaker had been facing growing opposition within his own party.

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will resign from Congress at the end of October, his office announced Friday. 

In a statement, Boehner's office said that he had only planned to serve in Congress until the end of last year, but changed his plans when former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his seat. 

Boehner was facing pressure from conservative Republicans over a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and there were rumors that those members would try to oust him as speaker. Boehner, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, became speaker in 2011. 

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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Boehner on the Senate floor Friday.

“He is an ally. He is a friend. And he took over as Republican leader at a difficult time for his party," he said.

Also speaking on the floor of the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lauded Boehner, but blamed his departure on the state of the Republican party.

"By ousting a good man like Speaker Boehner -- someone who understood the art of compromise -- the party of Eisenhower and Reagan is no more," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Boehner's resignation "seismic," adding that it was "a stark indication of the disarray of the House Republicans."

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said that Boehner had resigned because he knew that he could lose his position.

"There's no question conservatives had a victory here," he said. Huelskamp is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the group that was trying to oust Boehner.

But Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said that Boehner was sacrificing his position for the good of the conference.

"I think that following the pope's visit -- this is sacrificial love on his behalf to strengthen the Republican conference. It's really amazing and unheard of in modern-day politics," he said.

Across town, a group of social conservatives were gathered for the start of the annual Values Voter Summit, where dozens of politicians were scheduled to speak over the next few days. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla) delivered the news of Boehner's resignation to the summit to huge cheers and a standing ovation from attendees, underscoring the opposition Boehner often faced from within his own party.

Asked about the resignation, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) skipped over the pleasantries and went straight to criticizing Boehner -- without naming him -- and McConnell for making promises to conservatives and not keeping them.

"I have long said leadership decisions are decisions to be made by the House, but I have also long called on Republican leadership to do something unusual, which is lead,” Cruz said at a press conference hosted by Liberty Institute. “To actually stand up and honor the commitments that we made to the American people. There’s a frustration across this country. It is volcanic. And it’s not complicated to understand.”

Cruz did not give a yes or no answer when asked whether McConnell should step down as well, saying it is "a question for Leader McConnell and for the Republican conference." He said he would "sing their praises," though, if they stood up to lead, referring to Boehner and McConnell.

Twice during a nearly two-hour meeting between Boehner and Republicans at the Capitol on Friday applause could be heard from inside the room.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) came out teary-eyed and started choking up when asked what he thought of Boehner's resignation. Cramer said that Boehner recited the prayer of Saint Francis when announcing his resignation to House Republicans Friday morning.

"It's kind of like the announcement of a death," Cramer said.

"A lot of really small people look smaller, and he looks bigger," he said. "And why not, why not let the guy who's always taken all the slings and arrows for us, take it one more time." 

Rep. John Flemming (R-La.) said Boehner played his decision close to his vest and that even Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) didn't know about it until the announcement.

Boehner had been scheduled to speak with reporters Friday morning after meeting with Republicans, but left the meeting by a back door and didn't talk to the press. 

Elise Foley, Michael McAuliff and Amanda Terkel contributed reporting. 

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