The political dynamics on Capitol Hill are fast moving on the stunning announcement by House Speaker John Boehner of his resignation effective October 30.
*** While the House GOP has been thrown into turmoil over its leadership races, the Democratic leadership is moving quickly to capitalize on the GOP disarray and is now likely to only offer its votes to avoid a federal government shutdown next week for a very short duration Continuing Resolution, perhaps only a few weeks at most, rather than the Senate-proposed CR of two and half months into mid-December. ***
*** While a short CR will reduce the risks of a shutdown next week, the boost to Democratic leverage is likely to make the budget battle even more of a protracted party partisan political fight on top of the deepening splits within the GOP. Boehner’s sudden exit under pressure from the House GOP dissident far right will, if anything, elevate the risks surrounding the battle that looms over the need to increase the debt ceiling some time in November (see SGH 9/22/15, “Capitol Hill: Shutdown Likely”), a risk the markets will have to start pricing in. ***
*** The impact of Boehner’s resignation on the GOP House Republican Conference should not be underestimated. Even if the House GOP quickly close ranks around Majority Leader kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise as Speaker and Majority Leader, Boehner’s exit remains a warning shot for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the mainstream Republican Party in the political consequences of ignoring the heated Planned Parenthood and abortion funding issue. And it is a fracturing of the GOP that will only get even more heated coming when the Presidential campaigns are seriously getting underway in the run-up to the early primary season. ***
From what we understand Boehner’s resignation today came after yet another extremely contentious and frustrating three-hour long session yesterday with rebel Republican Representatives pushing to link the defunding of Planned Parenthood with passage of the federal budget.
Boehner had threatened to resign in the past, both publicly and privately, but had been loath to turn the reins over at the time to Representative Eric Cantor.
He is more comfortable with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the now heir apparent from California who filled Cantor’s position after Cantor’s surprise loss of his House seat in 2014.
At his press conference, Boehner made reference that he had been prepared to resign at the end of last year but that Cantor’s loss prompted him to stay on. Indeed it did, until this morning. He knows McCarthy is performing well in the number two position and, frankly, is a person more dedicated to the House as an institution than Cantor.
Of course there are no guarantees, and we expect McCarthy to face a challenge for the leadership at a minimum from the conservative rebels, but GOP sources expect him to prevail easily with no formidable challenger. McCarthy is an amiable Californian, characterized as charming and relaxed.
The more fierce leadership struggle will be over the position of House Majority Leader, and whether that goes to Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the conservative current House Republican Whip and former head of the Republican Study Committee, or someone more to the right. Chances are better than even that Scalise gets that position as well.
On a personal level, the timing of the stunning decision by Boehner, a devout Catholic who worked tirelessly to bring the Pope to speak before Congress, did indeed appear to be impacted by the Pope Francis’ emotional address yesterday.