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‘Shocked, sad, and a little bit angry’: Rep. Kline reflects on Boehner resignation

Looking back over his tenure as speaker, Kline emphasized that Boehner got a lot done in spite of a number of obstacles.

Earlier Friday, Speaker John Boehner announced he would resign from the House in October.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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.

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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.