When the news of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation rippled through Washington on Friday, political analysts in Pennsylvania were only partially surprised.
The timing of the announcement — in the midst of the papal visit and one week before the federal budget deadline — was what took many by surprise.
Steven Medvic, a government professor at Franklin & Marshall College, said Boehner had sent signals for a while that he was ready to step down and that it was clear he wouldn’t have given into some conservatives demands to enter a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding.
If he had stayed, “it could have been a really messy battle,” Medvic said.
“Probably in the end we were not going to have a government shutdown, at least if he had anything to do with it, and he probably wasn’t going to be able to stay on as speaker,” he said.
Boehner said at his press conference he had planned on announcing his resignation in November but woke up on Friday and decided to do it sooner.
“I think this in some way is him falling on his sword,” said David O’Connell, a professor of American politics at Dickinson University.
“I think he faced a very difficult challenge,” he said. “He’s an old-style deal-making politician that used to be very common in politics.”
The compromising, deal-making aspect of Boehner’s legacy is what lost him support among Republican colleagues while the demands and tactics of his party made it difficult for himto lead, Medvic said.
“He said over and over again (in his press conference) his first responsibility is to the institution. He is the speaker of the whole House,” Medvic said. “He never talked about his responsibility to his party.”
Lancaster County’s two House members, Republican Reps. Joe Pitts and Patrick Meehan, issued prepared statements thanking Boehner for his service.
“Under John Boehner's leadership, we have saved taxpayers three trillion dollars, made Medicare more dependable for seniors, and passed a dozen bills for veterans,” Pitts said in a written statement issued in response to an LNP inquiry. A spokesman did not respond to a request for a phone interview.
“I thank him for his service to our country, and wish him the best in all of his future endeavors. We now have an opportunity to elect a successor who will carry forward the momentum of these considerable achievements.”
Meehan said Pope Francis’ address Thursday to a joint session of Congress made for an appropriate end to Boehner’s leadership.
“Yesterday’s visit by the Pope was a fitting capstone to a fine career of public service,” he said. “Speaker Boehner always put the country and the institution of the House first. I wish him all the best.”
If Planned Parenthood continues with funding and the government doesn’t shut down, the GOP is expected to remain angry in the coming months and make the job of the next House speaker difficult, Medvic said.
With the GOP also taking the national political stage in the form of its 15-member presidential field, O’Connell said Boehner’s actions may have helped the candidates.
“They would somehow have to manage (talking about a government shutdown) from their campaigns,” O’Connell said.