Since seizing the speaker’s gavel Jan. 5, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly ignored and steadfastly downplayed rampant rumor that one member or another was coming after his perch atop the rostrum in the House chamber.
But now that he has announced his intention to retire from Congress Oct. 30, one unanswered question spinning across the beltway is “why is Boehner retiring now?”
Hosting Pope Francis Thursday at the Capitol for a joint meeting of Congress could have been the highlight of the Ohio Republican’s 24-year career in the House and the moment when the realization sunk in that he has nothing left to achieve in an illustrious career.
Boehner, who is second in the line of succession for president of the United States, also knows the damage that a government shutdown can unleash on politicians and the difficulty striking bipartisan consensus without upsetting his base of supporters.
With a potential embarrassment on the horizon as the big battles take hold on Capitol Hill over government funding next week and the debt limit in early November, Boehner, 65, may have simply decided now was the best time to step down.
Throughout his tenure as speaker, Boehner has been regularly criticized and targeted by House conservatives over his leadership of the conference, most recently in July when Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina filed a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair.
That dissatisfaction carried through the summer recess and into the fall legislative session as conservatives grew incensed by his disjointed strategy to defund Planned Parenthood apart from a bill to fund the government.
Boehner may have bought his members a little time by announcing his resignation and winning over conservatives who have now agreed to pass a clean short-term government funding bill.
A senior aide to Boehner insists that his decision to retire has nothing to do with his health.
Boehner scoffed at the notion in July that any members had the capacity to unseat him.
“You got a member here and a member there who are off the reservation. No big deal,” the speaker said. “Listen, this is one member. I have broad support amongst my colleagues. Frankly, it isn’t even deserving of a vote.”
The official explanation in Boehner’s own words is that his retirement comes after realizing that a fight over the gavel could damage the institution of Congress, which already suffers from dismal approval ratings from the U.S. public.
"The first job of any speaker is to protect this institution that we all love. It was my plan to only serve as Speaker until the end of last year, but I stayed on to provide continuity to the Republican Conference and the House,” Boehner wrote in a statement today. “It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. To that end, I will resign the Speakership and my seat in Congress on October 30.”
Regardless of the rhetoric of his official written statement, only Boehner knows the true reasoning in his heart for retiring in the middle of his 13th term.
"When it's all said and done, I'm just a regular guy who has been given a chance to do a big job," Boehner often repeated over the past five years when asked about the weight of the speakership on his shoulders.
Now that that moment is approaching, for someone who mows his own lawn, presses his own dress shirts, cries in public, raises money on the golf course, smokes like a chimney and enjoys a decent glass of Merlot, Boehner likely just came to the realization that he’s had enough.