Boehner's Exit Hailed by Many in 2016 GOP Field
When House Speaker John Boehner announced Friday morning that he will step down from his post, at the House Republican Conference meeting inside the Capitol, members chewed on the news with stunned silence. Some shed tears, according to one member present.
Across town, at the conservative Values Voter Summit, the development was much differently received. Sen. Marco Rubio shared the breaking news during his speech, and the crowd rose in a wave to its feet and cheered.
Rubio, who has not clashed with Boehner in Congress, but who is running for president at a time when anti-Congress zeal is high among Republicans, decided to ride the current.
"I'm not here to bash anyone,” Rubio said, “but the time has come to turn the page."
A former senior aide to Boehner fumed afterward that Rubio’s remarks were “surprising and disappointing.”
But they were also in line with the rhetoric Republican presidential candidates have used on the campaign trail, where GOP leaders in Congress have become popular punching bags among those candidates — that is, most of them — looking to establish themselves as foils to Washington.
“I thought if we had the majority in the Senate, add to our numbers in the House, they would stand up and do something,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Friday. “They’re not doing anything different in the majority than they are in the minority, and it’s time that we get this country back on track.”
The message has resonated in particular among the party’s conservatives, who comprised the audience at the Values Voter Summit on Friday. A recent NBC News poll showed that those Republicans who most want Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, thrown out are those who listen to conservative talk radio, identify as Tea Party supporters or very conservative, or support Donald Trump.
For this audience Friday, most presidential candidates did not offer good wishes or parting words of praise for Boehner, a symbolic figurehead of Washington Republicans. Instead, they took parting shots, and the speaker’s ouster became one of the big applause lines of the day.
"Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House. Y'all come to town and suddenly that changes,” Sen. Ted Cruz said, to loud cheers. “My only request is you come to town more often."
“Some people like him on a personal basis. Does anybody?” Donald Trump said of Boehner. The crowd muttered “no” as Trump pushed ahead. “But we want to see the job being done properly.”
Outside of the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, where the summit was held, the tone was softer, with those GOP presidential candidates in the party’s more moderate wing venturing praise for Boehner, who ascended to the speakership in 2010 promising a less heavy-handed style of leadership and, on the policy side, dramatic cuts in government spending.
“John Boehner dedicated his life to public service,” Jeb Bush, a close ally of Boehner, tweeted. “Bringing the Holy Father to Congress was a fitting cap to a great career.”
Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who famously railed against Boehner and other House leaders in 2013 as he sought federal relief funding after Hurricane Sandy, shared kind words in response to Boehner’s announcement.
“I admire (Boehner) for his dedication and service to this country,” Christie tweeted. “He’s a good man and I wish him well.”
But, for those candidates mining the Values Voters Summit for conservative support, there were few positive words for the speaker — even from one of his longtime friends and former House colleagues, Sen. Rick Santorum.
“It’s probably time for him to have stepped down to start a new chapter,” Santorum said of Boehner in his remarks.
Speaking afterward to reporters, Santorum recalled his work with Boehner when both were freshmen House lawmakers, as part of the “Gang of Seven” that sought to tamp down corruption.
“When I came into the Congress, John Boehner was about as tough as nails as anybody that I knew, and we were part of the Gang of Seven together, and we didn’t back down from a fight,” Santorum said. Asked what Boehner’s legacy would be, Santorum pointed to that chapter.
But Santorum could not call to mind, or would not, Boehner’s key achievement as speaker, nor any praise for his work in that post.
“It’s hard to keep your edge when you’re in Congress and you’re in that position,” Santorum reasoned.
On the day that Boehner decided to step down, most of the Republican presidential field agreed.