House speaker Boehner quits amid Planned Parenthood row

Republican faced pressure from conservatives over healthcare clinics

House speaker John Boehner  announces his resignation: he decided to act following the “awesome sight” of the pope’s historic address to congress. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

House speaker John Boehner announces his resignation: he decided to act following the “awesome sight” of the pope’s historic address to congress. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner surprised colleagues and the wider political establishment in Washington by announcing his resignation from congress.

The under-fire Mr Boehner, a member of Congress since 1991, had struggled with conservative backbenchers within his party since 2011 when he became speaker, a role that is second in line to the presidency.

“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” he told reporters at the Capitol. “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”

Abortions

Conservatives want to remove government funding from the clinics, which perform abortions, amid claims from anti-abortion activists that employees of the health centres were selling foetal organs.

Mr Boehner said he planned to step down last year but remained on following the shock defeat of Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor to a conservative challenger in a primary election.

He said yesterday he had planned to announce on November 17th, his 66th birthday, that he would leave at the end of the year. He accelerated his departure – he will step down at the end of next month – after Pope Francis’s visit on Thursday.

A devout Catholic, Mr Boehner said he decided to act following the “awesome sight” of the pope’s historic address to congress and a moving moment with the pontiff afterwards.

“The pope puts his arm around me and kinda pulls me to him, and says, ‘Please pray for me’. Well, who am I to pray for the pope, but I did,” an emotional Mr Boehner said.

The speaker, who is famous for his public displays of tearfulness, only decided to depart yesterday morning, he said.

“Last night, I started thinking about this, and this morning I woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided today’s the day I’m going to do this – as simple as that,” he said.

Mr Boehner’s five years as speaker have been punctuated by clashes with the conservative wing of the party as he struggled to pass bills to raise the country’s debt ceiling and to keep the government open.

Fractured party

He told a news conference that Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, an Irish-American congressman from California and favourite to succeed him, “would make an excellent speaker”.

Calling Mr Boehner “a good man”, US president Barack Obama said his departure “took him by surprise”. The next speaker, he said, should be open to compromise instead of risking a government shutdown.

“That’s what government is in our democracy: you don’t get what you want 100 per cent of the time,” said Mr Obama.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Mr Boehner’s resignation was evidence of the far-right hijacking his party.

“That resignation of the speaker is a stark indication of the disarray of the House Republicans,” she said.