No one pounded the drum calling on House Speaker John Boehner to vacate his chair more in recent months than a sophomore congressman from the Western North Carolina mountains.
When he introduced his so-called “Fire Boehner” resolution this summer, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., became the face of a group of conservative Republicans who had grown increasingly unhappy with the speaker’s leadership. They wanted a stronger leader who was more willing to stand up to the executive branch and was more responsive to their views.
I give Mark tremendous credit for having the political will to do that.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
They got their wish for a change Friday when Boehner abruptly announced he will step down at the end of October.
Meadows would offer only praise for Boehner on Friday, but some of his colleagues are giving him credit – others are blaming him – for setting the stage for the speaker’s departure.
“I give Mark tremendous credit for having the political will to do that,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. “He did what a lot of people were talking about.”
The speaker’s announcement capped months of turmoil over Boehner’s leadership of the Republican conference. In July, Meadows filed his resolution for Boehner to vacate the seat.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Boehner said he was confident he wouldn’t be pushed out, but didn’t want to put members through additional “leadership turmoil” that would harm the institution.
“I don’t want to put all my colleagues through this,” he said. “For what?”
Earlier this summer, before filing his resolution, Meadows was stripped of his chairmanship of on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee. Many lawmakers viewed it as retribution after Meadows bucked House leadership and voted against a rule that allowed consideration of a measure to grant President Barack Obama so-called “fast track” trade authority. Meadows got the position back after colleagues rallied to his side.
On Friday, Meadows responded to Boehner’s announcement by saying the speaker “has served honorably.”
“At times I differed with Speaker Boehner on policy or procedural positions, but I commend him for his honorable service, his humility, his undeniable love for his country and his desire to serve this great nation,” Meadows said in a statement.
Members were shocked about Boehner’s resignation.
Approached outside the House floor, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., declined to talk about Boehner, saying he was still processing the news. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., said she hoped people would come to realize how much Boehner protected the institution and “took bullets for so many members.”
I don’t want to put all my colleagues through this. For what?
House Speaker John Boehner
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., cited Boehner’s work to cut federal spending, fight abortion and strengthen national security.
“He understood the big picture,” Pittenger said. “Because of his leadership, we’re the largest Republican majority since 1928.”
The departure set off a rush maneuvering. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., now the House majority leader, is the front runner to be the next speaker. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the chief deputy whip, could also move up and is expected to run for whip.
On Thursday, Boehner was visibly emotional when Pope Francis visited the U.S. Capitol and spoke to both chambers of Congress. The speaker, who is Catholic, repeatedly reached for his handkerchief as the pope spoke. At the time, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said later, he wondered whether there was something more to Boehner’s tears. Butterfield said he now understands Boehner was likely also thinking about his pending departure.
“Speaker Boehner has tried to do the right thing each time we’ve faced a crisis and he’s met massive resistance from the right wing of his conference,” said Butterfield, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “And I think he’s sick and tired of it.”
Butterfield called the resistance an “insurrection” among the Republicans. He said Meadow’s resolution shined a light on the dysfunction in Congress and “without question contributed” to Boehner leaving.
Mulvaney called Boehner’s departure “necessary.”
He and four other conservative lawmakers met with Boehner on Thursday, telling the speaker during the conversation they had lost confidence in his leadership and that they would fight to remove him as speaker. They were disappointed when Boehner said he would not defund Planned Parenthood, Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney said the chamber needed new, stronger leadership if Congress wants to reestablish itself as a co-equal branch of government. Boehner ceded too much power to the executive branch, Mulvaney said.
“John was still fighting the battles today using the tools of yesterday,” Mulvaney said. “You cannot be an effective check and balance against overreaching executive if you’re still operating Congress like you did in the 1990s.”
Don Worthington of The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., contributed to this report.