U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner will step down and leave Congress at the end of October after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber's top Republican.
The Ohio lawmaker, 65, stunned Republican House members at a meeting on Friday with the announcement he will leave the top job in the 435-seat chamber and resign his seat effective on Oct. 30.
U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, 50, of California, the No. 2 House Republican, quickly became the leading contender to replace Boehner as speaker. McCarthy has been loyal to Boehner during his frequent tussles with conservatives, but is also close to Tea Party conservatives and in recent months has tacked to the right.
Boehner declined to endorse anyone as his successor, but told reporters McCarthy "would make an excellent speaker."
Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believe he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation.
Obama praised the speaker as "a good man" and said he hoped Boehner would want to get as much done as he can before he leaves.
Boehner told reporters he was stepping aside to avoid another brewing House battle over his leadership. Conservatives had threatened a House revolt and possible government shutdown over spending next week.
"It's become clear to me this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution," Boehner told a news conference, frequently fighting back tears.
"It's the right time to do it, and frankly I'm entirely comfortable doing it," he said.
Boehner's move appeared to ease the threat of a government shutdown next week. Many Republicans said it would free him to forge ahead with a "clean" spending bill that does not withhold funding from the women's reproductive health group Planned Parenthood without fear of reprisal from conservatives who object to the group's abortion services.
But the battle over his successor could coincide with fights later this year over government spending and raising the federal debt limit, complicating the political battles and adding more uncertainty for financial markets.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a longtime foe of Boehner's, said his pending departure would be "a distraction" during the spending debate and called his decision "seismic to the House."
On Thursday, Boehner, a Catholic, realized a longtime goal of hosting Pope Francis for an address to Congress and broke down in tears as he stood with the pope to greet crowds on the Capitol's West front.
Boehner sparked controversy in March by inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address congress on the threats of a nuclear accord with Iran, still being negotiated at the time. The speech took place ahead of the elections in Israel and some were concerned Netanyahu would use the opportunity to promote his campaign.
The son of a bar owner and one of 12 children, Boehner is the only college graduate in his family. He grew up in Cincinnati and served in the U.S. Navy in 1969, then became a small businessman before launching a political career.
Boehner has longstanding ties to the Jewish community, dating to the launch of his career as a local politician in southern Ohio.
“Speaker Boehner has always been attuned to the interests of the Jewish community,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, who launched his own career as a page to Boehner in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Daroff said Boehner worked with Jewish groups “closely to help those served by our social service agencies, to bolster the philanthropic sector and to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. His steadfast leadership will be missed.”
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