House Speaker John A. Boehner will resign from Congress at the end of October, stunning Capitol Hill with what he said was a snap decision reached Friday morning, and leaving tremendous uncertainty for Republicans just when they face a series of major showdowns with the White House.
The move comes just a day after he lived out a personal dream by hosting Pope Francis for an address to a join session of Congress — something the Ohio Catholic had sought for years — and Mr. Boehner told reporters he just woke up Friday and decided it was time to remove any doubt over his future.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has the early inside track on replacing Mr. Boehner, but conservatives said they expected there to be challengers.
Mr. Boehner has been the top House Republican for nearly a decade, and speaker — making him second in the line of succession to the presidency — since 2011.
He’s overseen some major changes in the role of the speaker, including leading repeated separation-of-powers clashes with President Obama on everything from Obamacare to war powers to contempt of Congress charges for former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
But he’s had a rocky tenure within the Capitol, having to quell multiple rebellions by conservative Republicans who have been unhappy with what they see as weak leadership on his part.
“It’s become clear to me the prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” Mr. Boehner said.
Mr. Boehner told fellow house Republicans of his decision Friday morning, producing an outpouring of emotion for a man who is personally well-liked among most of his colleagues.
“A lot of really small people look smaller today, and he looks bigger. And why not? Why not the guy who’s always taking slings and arrows for us?” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican. “This was just such a kick in the stomach.”
His departure could set up a bruising succession fight, with the sizable number of very conservative lawmakers seeking a sterner hand at the helm. Conservative pressure groups are already demanding that.
“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,” said Michael A. Needham, CEO of Heritage Action. “Now is the time for a principled, conservative leader to emerge.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who’d been seen as a likely successor, ruled himself out Fridaymorning, saying “it’s a good job for an empty-nester” but that he doesn’t want it because he has young children at home.
He said he assumed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, is the person the party will turn to.
“This was an act of pure selflessness on the part of John Boehner,” Mr. Ryan said.
Democrats had viewed Mr. Boehner as someone they could work with — indeed, he repeatedly turned to them to cut deals that angered the conservative wing of the GOP, when it became clear he couldn’t build a majority from his own troops.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and the man likely to lead Senate Democrats in the next Congress in 2017, had repeatedly pushed Mr. Boehner to ignore the tea party wing of the GOP. On Friday, Mr. Schumer said he hoped Republicans would tilt toward the middle now.
“Speaker John Boehner is a decent, principled conservative man who tried to do the right thing under almost impossible circumstances. He will be missed by Republicans and Democrats alike,” he said. “Let us hope the Republican majority, which Speaker Boehner played a large role in creating, learns the right lesson from his resignation: to work with Democrats in a constructive way, rather than let a handful of extreme right-wingers dictate his party’s policy.”
Mr. Boehner told colleagues he hadn’t planned on being speaker in this Congress, but changed course after then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary bid last year, shaking up GOP leadership.
While his decisions on specific battles have spurred fierce debate within the GOP, Mr. Boehner has been transformational for the office. As a lifelong opponent of earmarks, he was the person most responsible for ending the practice.
And he has flexed the power of the speaker in a number of unused areas, including the power of inviting world leaders to address Congress. This year he has hosted Pope Francis, whose invitation was widely praised, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose invitation sparked a furious reply from the Obama White House, which accused the speaker of undercutting the president.