One day after welcoming Pope Francis to Congress, the most powerful Catholic in the House of Representative has announced that he is giving up his seat by the end of October.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, John A. Boehner formally announced that he would give up his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives and resign from Congress by the end of October. The Ohio Republican explained his decision by remarking on the impression Pope Francis left on him during the Pontiff’s historic visit to the Capitol the day before, ABC News reported.
“This morning I woke up and I said my prayers as I always do and I said, ‘today, I’m going to do this,’ and that was that,” Boehner said. “I would not describe it as ‘having had enough.'”
He had told fellow Republicans of his plan during a meeting Friday morning, the New York Times reported. Members of Boehner’s senior staff say they knew nothing about his decision before that.
It is generally known in political circles that the Speaker has been unhappy for a long time, particularly as he is under immense pressure from conservative members of his party to be more assertive on immigration issues, on a move to defund Planned Parenthood, and on the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
His leadership has been criticized within Republican circles, but Boehner may also be tired of the frequent demand, by some members of his party, to use the threat of government shut-downs as political leverage, and also frustrated by a president more inclined to do end-runs around the congress than actually negotiate with them.
“Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all,” an aide to Boehner told ABC News.
To what extent the Pope’s visit to Congress inspired this move is a question many will be asking. Boehner had a private meeting with Pope Francis immediately before the Pontiff made his address to the U.S. Congress, and afterward — as the Pope greeted and blessed an assembled crowd from the congressional balcony — Boehner openly wept. (Video here)
National Public Radio quoted a Boehner staffer as saying that Boehner closed his surprise announcement to the Republican caucus by reading the Prayer of Peace attributed to Saint Francis. The prayer was printed on the back of a holy card that he received from the Pope yesterday.
Boehner’s midwestern Catholic roots run deep.
According to CNN, Boehner’s original plan was to only serve as Speaker for two years, but he had held on for several considerations. Pope Francis’ visit to congress, however, became “a crystallizing moment” for him.
“After yesterday with the Pope, he decided to leave on this high note,” a top Boehner aide told CNN. “Literally did not make the decision til last night.”
As the Pope continues to speak to America during his visit to our shores, many may take a second look at his remarks made to the Congress, and wonder if something within the Holy Father’s words spoke to Boehner in a way that inspired his unexpected resignation.