Speaker of the House John Boehner will resign from Congress at the end of October, the Republican from Ohio announced last Friday morning.
Boehner, whose invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress earlier this year made waves, informed his fellow Republicans of his decision in a private House meeting.
Looking noticeably relieved, and even singing a few lines of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” the speaker said at a press conference that his first job is “to protect the institution.”
“It’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution. So, [Friday morning], I informed my colleagues I would resign from the speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October.”
Boehner said he had originally planned to step down after two terms as speaker. But he stayed on after Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Jewish former House majority leader, lost in his primary in June 2014.
“I planned, actually, on my birthday, Nov. 17, to announce that I was leaving at the end of the year,” said Boehner, who will wrap up 25 years in Congress. But a day after Pope Francis’ address to Congress, Boehner, who is Catholic, said he awoke, said his morning prayers and decided “today’s the day.”
Current House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is considered by many to be the likeliest replacement for Boehner. McCarthy spoke at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Las Vegas earlier this year. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) entered the speakership race last Friday.
Boehner had invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress in March. Though Netanyahu accepted the invitation after the White House had been informed, the secrecy during the planning stages led to a public spat between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. A number of Democrats skipped Netanyahu’s speech in protest.
“I think the Jewish community is losing a friend today,” said William Daroff, Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Daroff, who as a freshman in college worked as a page for Boehner in the Ohio House of Representatives, said he was surprised by Boehner’s announcement, but understood the challenges that led to his former boss’ decision.
“There was a lot of talk that he’d have a difficult time maintaining speakership given the ebbs and flows of keeping the government running and doing so while balancing issues that the conservative right flank of the House Republican Conference was giving him,” said Daroff.
Though the decision may have come as a shock, Daroff described Boehner’s resignation announcement as a “profile in courage” because, he said, the speaker put “his view of how best to govern above his own political future.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, was likewise surprised.
“Speaker Boehner’s resignation announcement was a surprise to all of us during an emotional Republican conference meeting this morning,” Zeldin said in a prepared statement. “His resignation today, following service in Congress that spanned over two decades, was a selfless act of leadership and I am confident that with the Speaker’s resignation, our conference will come out of this stronger, more united and more effective.”
Boehner has long had warm, strong ties to the American Jewish community, Daroff recalled, from helping Soviet Jews resettling in Ohio to the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel security relationship.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, in a statement, called Boehner an “unwavering ally and supporter of Israel and the pro-Israel agenda.”
“He will be missed by all of those Americans who believe that there should be no daylight between the United States and our ally Israel,” Brooks continued.
But not everyone had rosy remarks for the outgoing speaker.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been outspoken in his criticism of Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Speaking last Friday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Cruz, said, “I’ve privately urged [Boehner and McConnell] to stand up and lead and told them if they did, I would sing their praises,” The Hill reported.
“I would be thrilled to hold a press conference and talk about the brave, principled John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, if they would simply act in a way that I could say those things.”
Since taking over the speakership in 2011, Boehner has struggled to hold his party together.
Tea party conservatives repeatedly called for his ouster while moderates chided him on his inability to maintain party unity within the House. As of press time, he was embroiled in a battle to keep the government from shutting down. The right wing of his party refuses to vote for a bill that does not strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood while GOP leaders in the House and Senate warn that another shutdown could hurt Republican odds of winning in the 2016 elections.