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U.S. Speaker John Boehner to resign in October

An emotional House Speaker John Boehner says he woke up Friday morning and decided to announce his resignation from Congress because prolonged turmoil over his leadership would do irreparable harm to the House.

Barack Obama: "John Boehner is a good man. He is a patriot … He cares about America'

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker makes his way past a throng of photographers and reporters 1:29

An emotional House Speaker John Boehner says he woke up Friday morning and decided to announce his resignation from Congress because prolonged turmoil over his leadership would do irreparable harm to the House.

The Ohio Republican said he had planned to leave the speakership by the end of the year anyway. But he said  he moved up his timetable as unrest among conservatives threatened the House.

He told reporters at a news conference it has been an honour to serve in the House for 25 years and as its top leader.

He said California congressman Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 House Republican, would "make an excellent speaker."

Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was taken by surprise by Boehner's plan to resign next month, adding that he called the Republican leader after hearing the news.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Friday. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

"John Boehner is a good man. He is a patriot. He cares deeply about the House, an institution in which he has served for a long time. He cares about his constituents and he cares about America," Obama told reporters at a joint press conference with China's president.

"We have obviously had a lot of disagreements, and politically we're at different ends of the spectrum, but I will tell you he has always conducted himself with courtesy and civility with me," Obama said of Boehner, with whom he has frequently sparred.

Boehner, 65, plans to leave the House at the end of October after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber's top Republican.

U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, 50, of California, the No. 2 House Republican, has become the leading contender to replace John Boehner as speaker. (Lauren Victoria Burke/Associated Press)

Boehner's decision appeared to ease the threat of a government shutdown next week, as many Republicans said it would allow them to forge ahead with a "clean" spending bill that does not withhold funding from the women's reproductive health group Planned Parenthood, as threatened by conservatives who objected to the group's abortion services.

Hosted Pope Francis

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a longtime foe of Boehner, said the move would be "a distraction" during the spending debate and called his decision "seismic to the House."

Only the day before, Boehner, a Catholic, realized a longtime goal of hosting Pope Francis for an address to Congress and broke down in tears as he stood with the pope to greet crowds on the Capitol's West front.

Boehner brushed past reporters and did not answer questions as he left the Friday morning meeting, saying only, "It's a wonderful day."

Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation.

The approaching confrontation over government spending had raised the prospect of another possible challenge to his speakership by conservatives, something Boehner has beaten back several times before.

Human emotions

"I saw him recently and he looked weary. Understandably, he was tired," U.S. Senator John McCain, also a Republican, told reporters. "Sometimes we fail to appreciate that these are human beings with human emotions and lives to lead."

Boehner's plan had been to serve as speaker only through the end of last year, an aide said, but he changed his calculation when his No. 2 at the time, Eric Cantor, lost his seat last year in a Republican primary.

The aide said Boehner wanted to avoid a leadership fight and believed another bout of prolonged turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution.

Representative Paul Ryan, a former U.S. vice presidential candidate, told reporters in a Capitol hallway that McCarthy would likely be the next speaker. Ryan said, "I don't want to be speaker."

McCarthy said in a statement that "now is the time for our conference to focus on healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead and always do what is best for the American people."

'Clean bill'

There was no immediate market reaction.

Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors, said: "The near-term news is good in that it suggests that Boehner is going to get a clean bill through as his last act as Speaker, but the question becomes what happens post-Halloween and who the new speaker is going to be."

The son of a bar owner and one of 12 children, Boehner is the only college graduate in his family. He grew up in Cincinnati and served in the U.S. Navy in 1969, then became a small businessman before launching a political career.

On Thursday evening as Boehner left the Capitol, he told two reporters — one from Politico and another from the Washington Post — that he had nothing left to accomplish after bringing Pope Francis to the Capitol, Politico reported.

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