- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2015

The crowd at the Values Voter Summit erupted into applause and cheers at the news that House Speaker John Boehner is stepping down on Oct. 30.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio delivered the news to conservative activists at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

The 10th annual Values Voters Summit in Washington got underway Friday, boasting eight presidential hopefuls, a host of elected officials, the thoughtful, the outspoken, the outraged and some 2,500 grass-roots activists.

Ready to have their say: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee — all keenly interested in the summit’s presidential straw poll, sure to draw considerable media coverage.

“I sense there’s more intense interest in the summit this year. We’ve drawn our largest crowd, and they’re both concerned and engaged. They’ll see firsthand the convergence of moral, fiscal and foreign policy issues that will literally determine our country’s future,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and the point man behind the event — tells Inside the Beltway. “The candidates are vying for the votes of social conservatives, who are crucial for a Republican win in 2016. The media narrative that this is a shrinking voting bloc is not supported by the evidence.”

Indeed, a recent Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Republicans self-identify as social conservatives. So do 31 percent of Americans overall — which now equals the percentage of the public who are socially liberal for the first time in a decade.

And about those values — a new Bloomberg Politics poll reveals that “moral decay” was ranked first on a list of the threats to “American greatness,” cited by a third of the respondents. “Our own lagging work ethic” was second on the list, followed by the rise of Islamic State, money woes, global competition and the influx of illegal immigrants.

Many participants said they were surprised by the announcement, especially having seen an emotional Mr. Boehner escort Pope Francis into the well of the House of Representatives Thursday.

“I’m not sure whether his tears yesterday were for the pope’s visit or because he knew this was coming,” said John Stemberger, a social conservative leader from Florida.

Donald Trump, who arrived a few minutes ago at the Values Voter Summit, said he approved of the resignation of Mr. Boehner.

He’s not conservative enough, the Republican presidential candidate said to the scrum of reporters following him into the ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, offered to credit the Values Voter Summit for the turn of events.

Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House, he said.

“And then you come to town,” Mr. Cruz said to cheers and applause. “Can you come more often?”

​Dustin Siggins, a pro-life official with LifeSiteNews.com, said social conservatives had become disappointed with Mr. Boehner on many subjects, but especially “on the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood.”

Many people believe Mr. Boehner is sincerely pro-life, due to his record on the issue, Mr. Siggins said.

But there’s a sense he has “become a creature of Washington” — he seemed to want to “sit in a room, and get along and make a deal.”

But dozens of Republican social conservatives would block him, Mr. Siggins said.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Lynn Adair, a volunteer with Family Watch International, noting this was her personal opinion.

Who would make a good choice for speaker? “Louie Gohmert,” she promptly said.

The Texas Republican was also the first choice of Craig Bergman, who was at the Values Voter Summit on behalf of Alex Meluskey, a candidate for Sen. John McCain’s Senate seat in Arizona.

“Louie Gohmert is the No. 1 most conservative member in the House. His 434 peers do not compare,” Mr. Bergman said.

He added that he once ran an ad campaign — including in Cincinnati, aimed at Mr. Boehner — called “No More Wimpouts.”

Mr. Bergman said that as soon as he heard of Mr. Boehner’s resignation from Congress, his first phone call was to Ohio school teacher J. D. Winteregg, who ran against Mr. Boehner two years ago and garnered more than 20 percent of the vote.

“An open seat like this does not happen often,” Mr. Bergman said he told Mr. Winteregg. “You have calls to make!”

Mr. Gohmert, who addressed the summit in the evening, said he would not consider being speaker, but is throwing his support to Rep. Daniel Webster, Florida Republican.

At Americans United for Life, general counsel Ovide Lamontagne praised Mr. Boehner as a lifelong pro-life advocate and “unsung hero” for the issue — and “I wish him well.”

​The resignation is likely to lead to a “new leadership structure” in the House, he said, with implications for the efforts to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is a longtime goal, “and it’s time to move again on this,” Mr. Lamontagne said.

The 10 undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress, he said, show a systemic culpability to exploit women and harvest and sell body parts from the fetuses obtained in abortions.

Lawmakers and government officials should do all they can to make sure “not one dime” of taxpayer money goes to the “big abortion enterprise,” Mr. Lamontagne said.

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