How Boehner Made His Last-Minute Decision To Resign–And Kept It Secret

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September 25, 2015 1:34 p.m.
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This post has been updated.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walked into a press conference to announce his resignation on Friday singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” noting that it was “a wonderful day.”

He calmly announced his decision to step aside, and he explained that he kept most people in the dark ahead of his Friday morning announcement at a meeting with the House Republican conference.

Boehner said that on Thursday night, he thought he might announce his resignation the next day, only telling family and his chief-of-staff about his thoughts.

When he woke up on Friday morning, Boehner went through his usual routine — he picked up coffee and went to his favorite breakfast spot, Pete’s Diner on Capitol Hill. He then decided that he would make the announcement today.

The speaker told his staff about his decision before his conference meeting, and he told his second-in-command, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), just two minutes before the gathering. Boehner said he had to tell McCarthy about five times before he understood the speaker was serious.

Boehner said that his fellow Republican House members “were shocked” by his announcement.

He told reporters that he decided to step down from his role as speaker to protect the institution and his colleagues in the House — not because he was being forced out by uberconservative coup plotters within his own conference.

“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” he said.

Boehner noted that he had initially planned on resigning after serving two terms as speaker, but that he decided to stay on after former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his seat in Congress last year. But he said that now it is time for him to step down.

“It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” he said. “This isn’t about me. It’s about the people. It’s about the institution.”

Boehner brushed off questions about whether he decided to step down in order to avoid a vote to oust him as speaker. He said he wasn’t pushed out, but merely didn’t want his colleagues to deal with the instability.

When asked if Pope Francis’ visit to the Capitol on Thursday influenced his decision, Boehner said it didn’t. But he said, “I hope that we will all heed his call to live by the Golden Rule.”

He thanked his staff and his constituents, noting that his favorite part of serving in Congress was meeting people: “99.9 percent of the people I meet on the road, anywhere, could not be nicer than they’ve been,” he said. “It’s been wonderful.”

And when asked what he will miss, he said, “I will certainly miss the camaraderie of the House.”

Boehner mentioned that he is proud of the relationships he built in the House, noting that he has made friends across the aisle. He said that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who started in Congress at the same time as Boehner, called him on Thursday after the pope’s visit.

“I’m really proud of you,” Waters said, according to Boehner.

“I’ve got the best relationships on both sides of the aisle because I treat people fairly. I treat them honestly,” Boehner said.

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