The Resignation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Reflects Republican Rifts

The internal tensions in the Republican Party have finally gotten to John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives. He announced his resignation on Friday, Sept. 25, and it will take effect at the end of October. Boehner will also abandon his position as Ohio representative, a post which he has occupied continuously for 25 years.

For months now, Boehner has faced guerrilla forces from the Republican Party’s right wing, which opposed the compromises the speaker had struck with the Democrats, particularly those which ensured the continued functioning of the federal government. This minority right-wing faction, represented by the House Freedom Caucus, also believes that the Republican leadership in the House does not adequately defend conservative values.

Repeated Assaults

Boehner was able to repel attacks from these rival Republicans in January 2013, and again in January 2015, after the largest Republican victory since 1928. In September, extreme ideological leaders once again tried to overthrow him.

This insurrectionist sentiment partly augments the success of outsider candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election: Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

It has been sustained by the Republican Party’s inability, for example, to get rid of the healthcare reform to which President Barack Obama has attached his name, to force the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, and to block — before the decision of a federal judge — presidential decrees to ease the lives of undocumented immigrants present on American soil.

This summer, the Republican Party has been focused on the issue of abortion, after a group hostile to abortion broadcast films implicating Planned Parenthood in wrongdoing. These films, which are themselves the source of controversy, accuse Planned Parenthood of selling human tissue taken from fetuses.

Too Much Fighting

Now that federal institutions will be forced to shut down beginning Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass the coming year’s budget, the right wing of the Republican Party wants to tie its vote to the removal of subsidies paid to Planned Parenthood, a condition that is unacceptable to the Democratic Party.*

Faced with this threat of “shutdown,” i.e,. government closure, Boehner sided more with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believes that the battle against abortion should not force the question of the federal government’s continuity.

Yet this fight was obviously one too many for the Republican speaker. The devout Catholic, who worked for years to get the pope to speak to Congress, simply waited until after Francis’ historic visit on Thursday to make his decision known. Clearly emotional, Boehner twice could not hide his tears in the presence of the pope.

Member of the ‘Gang of Seven’

Though ousted by party rebels, Boehner himself presented as undisciplined when he arrived in Congress in 1990, after having been elected in the 8th district of Ohio, his home state. Coming from a modest family — he is the second of 12 children — he became, at 41 years old, a member of the “Gang of Seven,” a group of young congressmen scandalized by the discovery of the financial largesse some elected officials permitted.

After gaining the notice of the head of the Republican minority, Newt Gingrich, he worked actively on the Contract for America, the conservative platform that accompanied the electoral campaigns in 1994.

Boehner thus became an eminent leader of the GOP until his mentor fell following multiple controversies in 1998. Re-elected again in Ohio, he turned to his work in Congress to regain legitimacy. It was a long-term task, but the crown jewel came in 2010 when he acceded to the post of speaker thanks to the tea party wave, which tore control of the House from the Democrats. This same ultra-conservative wave is, today, his downfall.

*Editor’s note: On Sept. 30, 2015, the U.S. Congress voted to avert a government shutdown by passing a measure to extend funding for federal agencies until Dec. 11, 2015. President Obama signed the spending extension into law later that day.

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