John Boehner just gave his fellow Republicans a parting gift — one the country as a whole is likely to enjoy.
By announcing that he would resign at the end of October, the House speaker gave Congressional Republicans a chance to avoid a yearlong succession struggle, one that would have impaired a legislative process already hamstrung by partisanship and fallout from the presidential primary campaign. Instead of focusing their attention on battling over Boehner's leadership until the 114th Congress concludes at the end of 2016, Republicans will get a chance to make their choice now and live with it, at least for a while.
In the meantime, Boehner, liberated from worrying about how to save his job from potential assaults by rebellious party conservatives, can work with like-minded Republicans and Democrats to line up votes to keep the government running after Sept. 30, when this year's appropriations stop flowing.
The rebels have threatened to withhold votes to extend government operations unless Congress agrees to end federal appropriations for Planned Parenthood, a bete noire of the anti-abortion forces so powerful in the Republican caucus. They also want to force Democrats to end their opposition to a Republican budget plan that boosts defense spending while capping domestic programs. Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, want to head off the kind of shutdown that has hurt Republicans politically several times in recent years.
To be sure, any funding extension is likely to last only for a few months, so the new speaker is likely to face the same problem in December.
The timing of the Boehner decision surprised some of his closest colleagues, who as recently as this week were certain the Ohioan would serve through the end of 2016, according to former members who have spoken recently to Boehner and his confidantes. They speculated that Boehner's resignation decision may have been influenced by the visit of Pope Francis, who addressed a joint congressional session on Thursday. The pope's speech fulfilled a longstanding effort by Boehner, a Roman Catholic, to arrange a papal visit to Congress.