House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will resign from his leadership post and from Congress on October 30, setting off a mad scramble for power in Washington.
Boehner, 65, has led the House through four stormy years and fought frequently with conservative forces who complained he wasn’t aggressive enough in dealing with President Obama and Democrats in Congress.
His announcement immediately triggered speculation about his likely successor, with the spotlight turning to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the number two republican in the House. However, the far right of the caucus may push for an even more conservative and combative Republican to lead the House through the 2016 election.
The surprising news comes one day after Boehner welcomed Pope Francis to Capitol Hill. The visit had taken on outsized importance to the Speaker, who wept openly as the pope addressed lawmakers.
In the moments following news of his resignation, some lawmakers reportedly said that the pope’s visit was the highlight of Boehner’s career and that he felt he had nothing more to accomplish.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the announcement was “seismic” and a "stark indication of the disarray of House Republicans."
Speaking at the Value Voters Summit in Washington, DC, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a presidential candidate, informed the crowd of the Boehner’s resignation, sparking applause.
“The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country,” he said.
One key conservative group welcomed the news.
“Americans deserve a Congress that fights for opportunity for all and favoritism to none. Too often, Speaker Boehner has stood in the way. Today’s announcement is a sign that the voice of the American people is breaking through in Washington,” Heritage Action chief executive officer Michael A. Needham said in a statement.
“Now is the time for a principled, conservative leader to emerge,” Needham added.
Who will replace Boehner is not at clear.
Historically, the Republican Party has elected someone in a senior leadership position to fill the role of Speaker. Boehner himself served as majority leader under Speaker Dennis Hastert, and then as minority leader before becoming speaker when the GOP took over the House in 2011. Hastert himself had served as chief deputy whip under Speaker Newt Gingrich, who rose to the speaker’s chair after three terms as the Republican House whip.
However, given the current climate in the House of Representatives, it’s far from certain that history will be a reliable guide.
Speculation on Boehner’s successor will most naturally settle on McCarthy, the current majority leader. The Californian has strong ties to the business community and has a slightly higher lifetime conservative voting record than Boehner, according to the American Conservative Union.
However, McCarthy is close to Boehner, which may cause many of the more conservative members of the House to view him as tainted.
In a statement, McCarthy lauded Boehner as “a leader, mentor, and most of all friend” throughout their time together in Congress.
Next in line is Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana lawmaker currently serving as majority whip. Scalise is one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, with a lifetime rating of 97.1 from the ACU and a 100 percent score in the most recent full legislative year, 2014.
Scalise, though, struggled through a mini-scandal after he was appointed to the whip position in August of 2014. After news reports surfaced suggesting that he had delivered an address to a white supremacist organization while serving as a state legislator, and that he had once suggested that he and prominent white supremacist David Duke had many conservative principles in common. Many fellow politicians, including some black democrats, came to his defense, but Scalise may not be the face the GOP wants at the head of a party trying to grow its share of the minority vote.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, chairs the House Republican Conference, placing her just below Scalise in the leadership ranks. With an ACU ranking in the high 80s, she is a fairly reliable conservative but not as doctrinaire as many of the members calling for Boehner’s ouster. As one of the few women in senior positions in the Republican Party, McMorris Rodgers could find her gender to be an advantage as the GOP looks to broaden its appeal.
If Republicans break with tradition and decide to look for a new speaker from outside leadership, there are several strong possibilities. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who ran for vice president with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has long maintained a reputation as a policy-focused legislator more interested in crafting tax reform bills from his seat as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee than in trying to run the House itself.
However, Ryan told reporters on Friday morning that he will not seek the speakership, saying he is not interested in the position, according to The Hill.
Another name that will likely be in the mix is Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, arguably the most conservative lawmaker in the House. With a 100 percent lifetime rating from the ACU, Jordan is a strong voice in the element of the Republican House that has been most resistant to Boehner during his time as Speaker. However, it’s not clear that the rank and file of the GOP will submit to being led by the member from the most extreme edge of the party.
Another dark horse candidate is Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a Hispanic conservative with a strong right-wing voting record. Labrador has historically been a strong advocate of tougher border enforcement and left negotiations over immigration reform in 2013 over a refusal by other lawmakers to bar federal spending on health care for illegal immigrants. As a Hispanic in a party that has struggled to win votes from that quickly-growing portion of the electorate, Labrador’s election as speaker would be a potential olive branch to a community that largely feels shunned by the GOP.