What does John Boehner's departure mean for Congress and the Republicans?

Bye bye John Boehner. It seems an upset has erupted in Congress, and it’s not entirely clear whether this is a good thing. While Boehner’s announcement of his resignation as Speaker of the House is sudden, we must understand quickly what this means for Congress and the Republican Party. Something bad could be brewing here.

While John Boehner has not been a friend to progressives, what could follow him makes him seem so. It’s sad how delicately the political landscape has changed, where men like John Boehner are now considered “moderate.” Boehner has been the farthest from moderate, yet it seems that those wanting Boehner out are much more to the right than him.

How did this all start? Well, what has sparked Boehner’s resignation is the upcoming budget vote in October. Republicans in the House want to attach amendments to the budget defunding Planned Parenthood. While Boehner has never been a moderate on issues like Planned Parenthood, he didn’t seem willing to attach the amendments to the budget.

Due to the fact Boehner seemed unwilling to attach Planned Parenthood to the issue of the budget, his fellow Republicans effectively rebelled against him and demanded he either go along or step down. Boehner, confronted by this reality, has chosen to step aside.

The danger of this is not small. Keep in mind, Boehner is no moderate. He presided over the previous government shutdown, and he has been one of the worst opponents of a progressive agenda in Congress. Yet, it seems that Boehner is now being shoved out by a party even more radical than him. Boehner, it seems, was unwilling to shut down the government over defunding Planned Parenthood, which in the current Republican Party is unacceptable.

Not to defend Boehner, but it seems that attaching the Planned Parenthood amendment to budget talks is a losing battle doomed to go nowhere. Much like the previous shutdown over Obamacare, all the episode would do is cause inconvenience, not accomplish the goal, and degrade the popularity of the Republican Party even further. Despite this, the current Republican Party in the House wants to go ahead anyway.

It seems that as Boehner is stepping aside, the new Republican regime in the House will be much more radical and unwilling to perhaps even understand the basic premise of compromise. Not that the Party of the past few years has been willing to compromise, it seems that the new speaker and agenda may be even further unwilling to forge consensus and compromise.

This is how political systems fracture. If John Boehner is a moderate, then what exactly is a radical in Republican ranks? If Republicans are willing to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, then how much farther would they be willing to go? Also, this sends a message to future Republican leaders in Congress; push farther right or step aside.

What’s happened now to the Republican Party is in line with something Noam Chomsky once said. He was speaking on the state of the Republican Party and how it’s not even a Party anymore, rather it’s a “radical insurgency.” That has got to be the most accurate description of Republicans today.

Boehner’s resignation as Speaker of the House comes at a time a great friction in America’s political system, and this will not mend it. It seems the Republican Party is going even further right, and there is no telling where and when it will end.


  1. I have no problem understanding the mixed feelings among many progressives about John Boehner leaving his post—I have them, too. But, missed amongst those mixed feelings is the fundamental understanding that John Boehner—who is only “moderate” as the word is defined by Republicans—had another option that he was never willing to utilize; i.e., the assistance of House Democrats.

    Had Boehner been willing to form a working coalition with House Democrats, the 30 or so members of the “Freedom Caucus” would have been marginalized. Indeed, a pretty hefty majority of GOP conservatives in the House wanted him to use House Democrats per the present issue of attaching Planned Parenthood to the spending bill—they were smart enough to know the spending bill was eventually doomed without the PP funds. And Nancy Pelosi is savvy enough to know that, had that coalition been formed, Democrats would, of necessity, have needed to be very quiet about it; in other words, resist all crowing.

    Because Boehner wouldn’t do it, he allowed an amazingly small cast of crazies like Louie Gohmert to exercise enormous power over the House and over the country.

    This “radical insurgency” is not monolithic as a congressional entity. As I noted, in the House, it consists of about 30 members who represent an amazingly small total constituency. But they are the ones who get called by the far right radio talk-show hosts and the ones who make the radical statements that draw press attention and serve as red meat to the crazies in the hinterlands. Their power, in other words, comes not from numbers but from their willingness to say and do anything—no matter how destructive—to get what they want. And what they want is not governance but symbolic “victories”—no matter the cost.

    Albeit at the state level, I watched for years as the Senate president pro tem here in South Carolina, who is now president of the College of Charleston, did what Boehner could have done. He never spoke publicly about the Tea Party members of the GOP majority in the Senate, but he privately detested them. Concerned about (1) the institution of the Senate and (2) getting things done in South Carolina, he kept them at bay (except for their public comments in the press, which he couldn’t control) in terms of legislative power by taking the reasonable—for Republicans—GOP senators and forming a coalition with Senate Democrats that acted on primary pieces of legislation. This also forced Nikki Haley’s hand on several occasions (she quickly realized she was no match for him). I disagreed with him on any number of issues, but he got some good things done by working across the aisle. When he left for Charleston, there was no Republican who had his power and savvy. Hence, nothing now gets done because of Tea Party obstruction and Haley’s power-grabbing.

    As to the Crazy Caucus in the U.S. House, they will be back in December to try again to shut the government down over Planned Parenthood. I don’t think McConnell will let it get that far, but they’ll try. And, when they fail, they will fail loudly. Ironically, casting themselves as the “righteous remnant” has been as effective for them when they fail as when they succeed. It enables them to faux-identify with the aggrieved whites who are their most rabid followers and who, along with them, want to, uh, “take our country back.” Even if they have to destroy it to do so.

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