WASHINGTON — When Speaker John Boehner walked into a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference to announce his resignation, his colleagues were shocked — including his close ally and friend, Second District Rep. John Kline.
“When the Speaker got up and conducted routine business and then made this announcement, I was shocked as was everyone in the room,” Kline said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “I was shocked, sad, and a little bit angry in one big, roiling burst of emotion.”
With a potential shutdown ahead and a leadership coup bubbling in his party’s conservative wing, an upbeat Boehner said in a press conference that he decided Friday morning to resign and spare the House a difficult few months. He said he had initially planned to retire at the end of the year, but hastened it Friday, a day after Boehner — a devout Catholic — met with Pope Francis in the Capitol.
In the hours since Boehner’s decision went public, reaction from across the political spectrum has been swift. Longtime allies and even erstwhile opponents — like President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — expressed their admiration for Boehner and praised his honesty and 25-year service in the House. Kline, along with fellow Minnesota Republicans Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer, called Boehner’s decision selfless and courageous.
Meanwhile, Boehner’s bitter rivals within his own party took the opportunity to gloat. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gleefully credited conservative, anti-establishment activists with Boehner’s ouster and accused the speaker of cutting a deal with Democrats before he leaves office. Kline called that kind of criticism “sad.” There was a “small group of colleagues who were not happy with his leadership, in large part because they don’t understand what the obstacles are,” he said.
Kline emphasized that Boehner got a lot done given those obstacles, which include a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Senate for most of his five-year speakership. “John Boehner has provided steady and thoughtful leadership for his time as speaker dealing with tough circumstances,” he said.
Boehner’s critics are in for a rude awakening, Kline said. “People are frustrated and they took it out on John Boehner because he’s a visible leader…they’re gonna find out, whoever takes the position, they’re going to have the same issues to deal with.”
Speaking with MinnPost shortly before Boehner’s 1 p.m. press conference, Kline said he hadn’t talked with Boehner since the news broke. “I sent him a text on his cell phone with a couple words of encouragement,” Kline said. “It’s a very, very big day. I’ll talk to him over the coming days and weeks. We are pretty good friends and we’ll have the chance to have a glass of wine.”
Kline said he was confident that Boehner will continue working hard during his remaining five weeks in Congress: “He may be able to get some things done and clear some things out of the way,” he said.
One thing he might clear? A government shutdown: Boehner is reportedly likely to push a resolution to fund the government that includes funding for Planned Parenthood, which would survive a conservative revolt with moderate and Democratic support. Capitol Hill press quickly concluded Boehner’s move is certain to avert a shutdown next week.
Aside from being a friend of Boehner, Kline may have special insight: he’s looking at a big to-do list before his own retirement at the end of next year. Some politics-watchers in D.C. joked that if Boehner or Kline retired, the other would soon follow suit. Indeed, Kline announced his retirement September 3rd, three weeks ago.