The reaction from Florida’s congressional delegation to House Speaker John Boehner’s surprising decision to resign from Congress pretty accurately reflects the divisions that grip the nation’s capital and increasingly paralyze the government.
Some Republicans, especially those close to Boehner, expressed sadness (or other, more colorful emotions), a few tried to walk the middle line of praising the speaker’s service while expressing hope for a fresh start within the GOP caucus and those of the Tea Party persuasion were downright jubilant. One actually said he was going to run for Boehner’s job while another said he was going to seek the number-three job in the House.
And, to think, it was just a week ago that pundits were saying the only circus atmosphere to be found was in the presidential debates. In sorting through all this, let’s start with the opportunists first.
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, has thrown his hat in the ring for the speaker’s job. In the immediate aftermath of Boehner’s announcement Webster said on his official Twitter account, “Today is Speaker Boehner’s day. Tomorrow is another day,” indicating that any announcement he had to make would wait at least until Saturday.
Three hours later, though, he tweeted, “My goal is for the House to be based on principle, not on power & for every Member to be involved in the process.” He confirmed to conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he would run for speaker.
Webster faces an uphill battle against California Republican Kevin McCarthy, the current House majority leader and strong favorite in the race to succeed Boehner. He also faces a very real prospect that the ongoing, court-ordered redrawing of Florida’s congressional districts could result in him being forced to run for re-election next year in an unfavorable district.
McCarthy’s decision to seek the speaker’s job opens up the number-two job, in which a host of Republicans – including current majority whip (Louisiana’s Steve Scalise) – are expected to run. That in turn would open up the whip’s post. Enter Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, who early Friday evening announced he is running for that post.
“It’s time 4 our party to elect leaders who are willing to advance conservatives in a (positive) way and force POTUS (President Obama) to veto leg & explain why,” Ross tweeted.
Boehner himself was the beneficiary of a similar leadership shakeup in 2005, when then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, resigned amid a criminal investigation. Boehner, then the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, upset then-Majority Whip (and now Sen.) Roy Blunt, R-Mo., for the leader’s job. He became speaker in January 2011, after Republicans regained control of the House following four years of Democratic Party rule.
Interestingly, Boehner won that 2005 race by emphasizing his combination of conservatism, pragmatism and affability, skills highly valued then but often derided now in an increasingly fractious, bitter Washington.
Friday’s turn of fortune had one of the speaker’s closest Florida congressional allies in a foul mood. After visiting with Boehner shortly after his announcement, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he was “pissed” the Tea Party Republicans and other extreme conservatives were hijacking the party and forcing what many establishment GOP members see as an unwinnable battle to shut the federal government down over funding for Planned Parenthood.
“How somebody’s going to do anything different with the hand they’ve been dealt I don’t know, good luck,” he said.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, expressed a similar sentiment in a statement released to the media: “The honor of John Boehner this morning stands in stark contrast to the idiocy of those members who seek to continually divide us.”
Others, like Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, took a middle route, telling the Herald-Tribune that he hoped the resignation would present an “opportunity for new leadership to address the crippling dysfunction in Washington.”
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, a Tea Party loyalist, was less subtle: “I’m really excited and ecstatic about this.”
Florida’s congressional Democrats seemed to take a more philosophical, albeit partisan, view of the entire situation.
Sen. Bill Nelson issued a brief statement that read, “After Speaker Boehner fulfilled his dream of the pope speaking (to Congress), he is just plain tired of dealing with the right wing extremists.” Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, released a statement bemoaning the Tea Party’s efforts to oust Boehner, which she predicted would result in “greater dysfunction in Congress and more budget impasses.”
One significant irony of Boehner’s resignation is that Castor’s gloomy forecast will be staved off, at least for a while. The speaker isn’t leaving until the end of October, allowing him time to shepherd through the House a “clean” continuing resolution (read: no Planned Parenthood provisions) that will fund the government through the end of the year. The resolution will anger the very conservatives who wanted Boehner gone, but it is a resolution that can garner both Republican and Democratic votes in the House and actually pass the Senate.
That says a lot about Washington today: To get anything meaningful done, you have to be prepared to give up your job.
Author’s Note: I have worked in Washington for 25 years and first met John Boehner when he was a freshman in Congress. I was able to work with him and his staff on a variety of issues and six years ago had the honor of speaking at a forum he hosts in his congressional district. He was among the most accessible, down-to-earth leaders on either side of the aisle, at once committed to his strong conservative beliefs but also willing to work with liberal icons like Ted Kennedy to pass legislation. To borrow from author John Reed, in watching Speaker Boehner’s career, my sympathies were not neutral. But, in writing about today’s events, I have tried to provide an accurate picture of the divisions and struggles that currently engulf Congress.