House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation is likely to herald an even more combative stretch on Capitol Hill, emboldening conservatives to defy President Obama on spending, debt and taxes.
WASHINGTON — At the White House, a stunned President Obama expressed hope for bipartisan progress as turmoil among Republicans ended Rep. John Boehner’s speakership.
On Capitol Hill, the conservatives who had again felled one of their leaders rallied to name the terms for the next person to wield the speaker’s gavel.
On Wall Street, fear set in at the prospect of another showdown over the government’s ability to pay its debt, support its export businesses and simply keep its doors open.
Boehner’s sudden announcement Friday that he will step down from the speakership and leave the House on Oct. 30 has thrown the nation’s capital into deep uncertainty. His resignation is likely to herald an even more combative stretch on Capitol Hill, emboldening conservatives to defy Obama on looming decisions regarding spending, debt and taxes.
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Some in Congress and at the White House hold out hope that Boehner’s departure and the election of a new speaker will break the fever among conservatives, who have been plotting his downfall for more than a year, and grant his replacement a grace period. Obama promised Friday to “reach out immediately” to the next speaker to begin working on the nation’s problems.
But more prevalent is a sense of dread that an already bitter and divisive political atmosphere is about to get even worse.
The Republican presidential primary has been dominated by outsiders like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, who have castigated their party’s leadership in Washington.
With conservatives claiming Boehner’s coming departure as a political victory, many expect his successor to face tremendous pressure to bring that combative spirit to Congress, and to instigate a showdown with the president over budget limits and the debt ceiling at the end of the year.
Uncompromising conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are demanding the elevation of one of their own to confront the president at every turn. And lawmakers who had pressed to get rid of Boehner warned Friday that they would not buckle in defense of those spending limits, even in response to veto threats by Obama that could lead to a Christmastime stalemate and government shutdown.
“To get members to bust the budget caps, they have to threaten a Christmas-vacation shutdown for members of Congress,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of the rebels who pushed for Boehner’s overthrow. “Heaven help the speaker who replaces John Boehner and goes along with that charade.”
Boehner’s decision is likely to smooth a short-term path around a government shutdown this week. But the real showdown looms Dec. 11, when a stopgap-spending bill expected to pass this week would expire, and Congress and the president will have to find a way to fund the government through September 2016 and raise its borrowing limit.
The new speaker, elevated to the country’s third-highest constitutional post by a conservative rebellion, will face demands from those same rebels to extract concessions from a president who has little to lose by standing firm.
At stake for conservatives will be the one clear victory they have scored since the tea-party revolution of 2010: firm statutory limits on spending signed into law in 2011, which Obama has said he can no longer abide.
In turn, the Republican Party, already wrestling with the effect of Trump’s populist insurgency on its chances at the White House, could find itself with the political challenge of justifying to moderate voters yet another D.C. crisis, prompted by an even more obstreperous, confrontational House majority.
“Having been hoisted to the speaker’s chair by what was essentially a revolt,” David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama, predicted, the next speaker will not have the freedom to compromise with the president.
“This group is not installing him to pursue compromise and mutual cooperation,” Axelrod said.
Presidential aides have begun to take stock of a changed political landscape that could include some last-minute deal-making with Boehner before he heads back to Ohio. There could be a longer-term budget agreement that also deals with raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and possibly even a major infrastructure bill, long talked about and long stalled.
“John’s not going to leave for another 30 days, so hopefully he feels like getting as much stuff done as he possibly can,” Obama said Friday.
Looking at the long term, Democrats in Washington wondered whether Republicans wanted to show Americans they could govern, if only as a means to win back the White House and keep control of the Congress that they fought so hard to gain.
“For most Republicans, resolving these issues now, instead of having the government shut down in December, would be a political plus,” said Phil Schiliro, Obama’s former chief liaison to Congress. If the next speaker “decided that he wanted now to do a fair amount of business, there’s a window to do that.”
Schiliro also expressed some pessimism, adding: “At its core, there’s a group of members in the House Republican caucus who affirmatively don’t want to govern. And governing always means compromise.”
Wall Street is not optimistic. Chris Krueger of the investment firm Guggenheim Partners told clients Friday that he was raising the prospects of a damaging showdown on the debt ceiling. He dismissed hopes that Boehner was about to play a bipartisan Mr. Fix-It on his way out the door.
“Essentially, Boehner is the kindergarten teacher who is leaving his flock unsupervised and wants to get all the sharp objects out of the room before he goes off into the sunset,” Krueger wrote.
Before the news of Boehner’s decision had even sunk in, conservative knives were out for the heir apparent, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader.
Massie, the Kentucky Republican, said moving the leadership below Boehner “up one notch” would show that the party remained “tone deaf” to the discontent that swept Boehner from the stage.
Although conservatives may be unable to block McCarthy’s path, they could force his campaign for the gavel further to the right. Worries about his right flank helped prompt him last year to embrace the demise of the Export-Import Bank, the 81-year-old federal export- credit agency that has long had bipartisan support but has of late become a target for conservatives.
McCarthy will have to appeal to every end of the House Republican Conference to secure 218 votes in an open election for the speakership next month. Jenny Beth Martin, leader of the Tea Party Patriots, is already enumerating demands: an immediate vote on ending subsidies for members of Congress and the administration to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act; no debt-ceiling increase without a balanced budget in five years; and, far from lifting the caps, a 1 percent cut in spending on all government programs over the next five years.