In Quitting, Boehner Gives Glimpse Into Political Machine

Heading into Monday, political media will likely have a few more things to say about US House Speaker John Boehner resigning from his post at the end of October, a move that caught the political apparatus off guard. 

Boehner appeared on CBS' Face the Nation (full interview at YouTube) Sunday and gave some insight into his motivations. He emphasized that he already had plans to resign by the end of the year, but that he knew the conservative wing among House Republicans were organizing a vote against his Speakership. Though he was confident he would win, he said he didn't want to put his allies in the party through the process. In other words, Bohener didn't want to put targets on their back from Tea Party-style challengers when they came up for re-election. 

Here's one of Boehner's most emotional jabs against the right-wing of his caucus:

"I've accomplished a lot over the four-and-a-half years that I was Speaker.  Whether it was the largest deficit reduction deal in the history of the country, saving $2.1 trillion. Protecting 99 percent of the American people from an increase in our taxes. Or the first major entitlement reforms in 20 years...All voted against by most conservative members, because 'it wasn't good enough.' Really? This is the part that I really don't understand."

"Our founders didn't want some parliamentary system where if you got the majority you could do what you wanted. They wanted this long, slow process. And so change comes slowly. And obviously, too slowly for some."

When asked if the right-wing faction was unrealistic, Boehner yelled, "Absolutely!" He went on: 

"This whole idea that we were gonna shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013; this plan never had a chance. But over the course of the August recess in 2013 and the course of September, a lot of my Republican colleagues who knew it was a fool's errand -- really, they were getting all this pressure from home to do this.

And so, we've got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town --who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplishing things  that they know - they know - are never going to happen."


Boehner's announcement sets the Washington wheels of ascension turning. Politico writes current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's allies in DC have "moved swiftly to consolidate support" for him. He was reportedly "stunned" by Boehner's announcement. 

Should McCarthy get the job, that would leave to position of Majority Whip open. The Hill says the following Republicans are gathering support for the position:

  • Dennis Ross (Florida)
  • Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma)
  • Steve Scalise (Louisana, current Majority Whip)
  • Pete Sessions (Texas)

However, McCarthy may not rise to the top spot without a fight. According to that same Hill article, Florida's Daniel Webster and Texas' Jeb Hensarling are considering runs. 

The most interesting part of The Hill's coverage is here:

"In recent weeks, Freedom Caucus members have held informal discussions about backing a leadership slate that would include McCarthy as Speaker, with conservatives running for down-ballot spots. One conservative lawmaker even discussed those plans with McCarthy in a phone call over the August recess, and told the majority leader he would have his support if Boehner stepped aside."

It seems that Boehner's move may have prevented a full-on Freedom Caucus (the most official representation of the "Tea Party") takeover of the Speakership, catching them off guard and robbing them of the time needed to develop a strategy. The power vacuum allows establishment Republicans, here represented by McCarthy, to make some leadership concessions to the right wing while holding on to the top spot.

And, ultimately, it sets John Boehner free. The man seems fed up. As evidenced by his singing of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" at the top and the end of his press conference Friday.

(You can see Boehner's full press conference, including the clip of him singing while walking into the press conference, which indicates he fully intended to show off, at Minute 28 of this Washington Post YouTube video).

In her analysis above, Rachel Maddow seems to imply Boehner's putting on some sort of lie to hide how badly Republicans have been defeated. But from a mostly personal perspective, it seems to me Boehner is truly relieved to exit the political gamesmanship of the role and, also, putting up one last bit of resistance to the extreme faction of his party. The singing was perhaps a final nose-thumb at the people who wanted to see him publicly humiliated by a vote of no confidence. 

Boehner's move seems to me a protest of United States politics in their current form. Notice in the Face the Nation interview, Boehner first points at the "groups" in Washington, before clarifying that he also means the Ted Cruzes of Washington. His comments reflect that modern politics remain extremely cynical, manipulated by powerful groups to anger the public without actually intending to encourage sweeping change.

The groups with power in Washington have achieved one thing above all else - gridlock. And that doesn't seem like the kind of Speakership Boehner wanted to continue presiding over.  Rather than being ousted, Boehner is, in a fashion, leaving more on his terms. And may possibly avoid another government shutdown in the process.