Did John Boehner Time His Resignation with the Pope's Visit?

The man with "the hardest job in Washington" abruptly announced his resignation the day after fulfilling his personal dream: hosting a sitting pope in Congress.

How much did Pope Francis' visit influence House Speaker John Boehner's decision to turn in his gavel and mosey on back to Ohio? There's plenty of speculation going around that the pontiff must have said something that pushed the now-lame duck to call it quits. After all, Boehner's announcement was made the morning after he had fulfilled a 20-year dream of hosting a sitting pope in Congress.

But according to Boehner himself, Francis' visit only affected the timing of the announcement, not the decision itself. This is something he — and apparently much of Washington — knew was coming.

Boehner's announcement was made the morning after he had fulfilled a 20-year dream of hosting a sitting pope in Congress.

Since becoming House Speaker in 2011, Boehner has presided over one of the most fractious assemblies in American history. He's also faced constant strife from within his own equally fractious caucus and from obstructionist upstarts bent on weakening his control. The Week's Ryan Cooper called him the man with "the hardest job in Washington," and it's easy to see why. Boehner's resignation was almost a necessity at this point, given that the far right would have demanded his head later this week when he'll act to avoid another government shutdown. He can rest easy knowing no one's going to strip him of power; it's hard to snatch the gavel from someone who's already given it up.

Only time can tell the tale of John A. Boehner.

No one can say for sure what the future holds for the Republican House leadership. Some theorize that Boehner acted as a seal, keeping the volatile chemistry of the House from exploding beyond its chamber. Without him, the inmates will finally get to run their own asylum — for better or worse.

Others paint Boehner as one of history's weakest and least effective House speakers, a prolific waster of opportunities and someone who failed again and again to get his people on the same page. Perhaps a new leader won't allow himself or herself to be trampled so easily.

Only time can tell the tale of John A. Boehner.

And then there's the Pope visit. Why did Boehner choose Friday to make his announcement? He says he woke up that morning, a day after customarily (and — let's face it — adorably) bawling his eyes out during Francis' visit, and realized he had nothing left he wanted to accomplish as speaker. That may very well be a lie, which wouldn't be very Catholic of him, but the point stands that making his announcement on Friday allowed him to quit on a high note and on his own terms.

Considering how hamstrung Boehner's been over the past five years, perhaps we ought to feel happy for him: At least he had control over his exit.


Robert Montenegro is a writer, playwright, and dramaturg who lives in Washington DC. His beats include the following: tech, history, sports, geography, culture, and whatever Elon Musk has said on Twitter over the past couple days. He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter at @Monteneggroll and visit his po'dunk website at robertmontenegro.com.

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