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How Speaker Boehner's Resignation Will Impact Politics, Policy


John Boehner is moving on. The Republican speaker of the House announced last week that he is ending his 25-year career in Congress. Now, Speaker Boehner isn't your typical stoic Congressman. He is a man of emotion, whether he's addressing Congress...


JOHN BOEHNER: After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to defeat him?

MARTIN: ...Or talking to reporters about his own journey into politics.


BOEHNER: I put myself through school working every rotten job there was. I poured my heart and soul into running a small business.

MARTIN: And this past week, on what turned out to be the eve of his resignation, the devout Catholic found himself tearing up again during the pope's joint address to Congress. But there are many Congressional Republicans who are not crying and who are, in fact, celebrating his departure. For more on why, we are joined by Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent. Hi, Mara.


MARTIN: We know Speaker Boehner can be very emotional. He's not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. It wasn't enough to endear him to the rank and file in his party. Why did he feel like he had to go?

LIASSON: Because he was facing a revolt again from conservative members, two or three dozen members, who don't believe they were sent to Washington to go along, to get along. And they considered Boehner a squish, not because he was immoderate ideologically, but because he was an institutionalist. He was willing to compromise or make only incremental progress when necessary. Now, Boehner could've hung on as speaker, but maybe only with some Democratic votes and that would've been a sign of his weakness.

MARTIN: Mara, Republicans have been threatening another government shutdown this coming week over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. How does this play into that? Does Boehner's resignation have any bearing on that threat?

LIASSON: Well, I think it makes it less likely that we'll have a government shutdown in the short-term. Those two or three dozen conservative Republicans who were threatening to force a vote against Boehner have a scalp now. They accomplished one of their goals. So it's likely that a clean bill - that is, one with funding for Planned Parenthood - will pass to keep the government running at least for a few more months. Then the question becomes what happens in December when there has to be another bill passed along with a bill to raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to keep on paying interest on its debts? So why won't conservatives be emboldened then to stick to their guns? The thinking might be they forced Boehner to retire, why can't they force Obama to agree to their demands?

MARTIN: So the name floating out there as the most likely House member to replace Boehner as speaker is Kevin McCarthy of California. Will this appease the Republicans who were angry with Boehner?

LIASSON: Well, it's unclear at this point. Most bets are that it's unlikely. He is a conservative, like Boehner. He's cut from the same cloth. He's an institutionalist. He doesn't think compromise is a bad word. He isn't inclined to shut the government down in pursuit of an unwinnable goal, like defunding Planned Parenthood. But McCarthy has less experience than Boehner did. He's only in his fifth term, and he would be the least experienced speaker in more than a hundred years. And the same dynamics will be there. The same conservative wing that's willing to throw out the rulebook and default on the debt or shut down the government if necessary to remain true to its principles will still be there.

MARTIN: OK, what does this leadership shakeup mean on the bigger stage? How does it play into the GOP presidential race?

LIASSON: The same dynamic is there. The party is at war with itself. You know, when Marco Rubio announced Boehner's retirement at this weekend's Values Voters Summit, the annual meeting of social conservatives in Washington, the room broke out in cheers and applause. And, you know, when the three top candidates in the GOP primary - Trump, Fiorina and Carson - are getting more than 50 percent of the vote, they're all outsiders, you know there's a lot of anger at the establishment, anger that Republican congressional leaders couldn't stop Obama or repeal Obamacare. You know, outsider used to mean outside of Washington - a governor, for instance. Now Republicans seem to want someone completely outside the political system, no experience at all in government or politics, and we don't know how that's going to play out in the Republican primary. But the same dynamic is happening there as inside Congress.

MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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