Two conspicuously unnamed Santa Barbara political operatives were enjoying breakfast at Pete’s Diner, a ten-stool breakfast joint near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Friday morning when in walked Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The two were struck by how calm and relaxed Boehner appeared — wearing shorts and a Nike hat — given the rebellion against him then bubbling over by party conservatives then about to conduct a no-confidence vote against his leadership. No words were exchanged, breakfasts were eaten, and everyone went their own way. Moments later, Boehner would slip into his customary salmon tie and suit and notify the world he was resigning both as house speaker and as a member of Congress effective October 30. Boehner had effectively opted to fall on the political equivalent of a live hand grenade. Not only did he render moot the no-confidence vote, but he likewise pulled the plug on the plan by conservative Republicans to withhold the votes needed to fund the federal government next week. “My first job is to protect the institution,” Boehner explained at his press conference. By clear implication, the violence inflicted by the fight over the continued funding of the federal government and his continued leadership would clearly have been too damaging to the institution.
In the short term, it’s likely that the House and the Senate will both pass a continuing funding resolution next week that will keep the federal government afloat and humming long enough at least for the Republicans to figure out who they will select to succeed Boehner on the hot seat. After that, another resolution will need to be passed if funding is to be continued for the rest of the fiscal year. House conservatives had been agitating for the defunding of Planned Parenthood — which receives about half-a-billion dollars a year in federal assistance for women’s health services, (and no abortions). Last Friday, the House — by an almost perfect party-line vote —approved a measure eliminating all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The votes weren’t there to strip the funding in the Senate, however, where the conservatives came 13 votes shy of the 60 needed to prevail.
The cultural wars over Planned Parenthood erupted anew two months ago with the release of ten videos taken by anti-abortion activists posing as biotechnology lab representatives appeared to show Planned Parenthood representatives seeking to maximize revenues from the sale of fetal tissues obtained via abortions. It’s against federal law to sell such tissues for a profit, and sellers are allowed only the cost to prepare, store, and ship the material. Planned Parenthood and its defenders have objected that the videos were edited and spliced in an inflammatory manner and pointed out that their representatives consistently reminded the would-be buyers of the legal limits on what could be charged. Last week, the Santa Barbara City Council and the Santa Barbara County Supervisors passed ceremonial resolutions honoring Planned Parenthood as part of an orchestrated push back at the local level against the national attack on the agency.
Most press accounts name Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Republican House Whip, as the next in line to succeed Boehner. Like Boehner — who argued it was politically suicidal for Republican conservatives to hold hostage future funding of the federal government over Planned Parenthood — McCarthy is seen as the candidate of choice by more mainstream establishment figures. Some Democrats worry McCarthy is hardly the shoo-in of media headlines and suggest he could have faced stiff opposition from the far more conservative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who announced Monday he will not run but will support Republican ally Tom Price, of Georgia.
Hensarling’s offices are right next door to Santa Barbara’s congressmember Lois Capps, but according to her press aid C.J. Young, the two have little occasion to interact as she doesn’t serve on any of his committees. “While we may not agree on every issue, Speaker Boehner has served this institution with distinction and I wish him the best in the next chapter of his life,” Capps said in a press statement. “The Speaker’s unexpected announcement is testament to the challenge —one might say dysfunction — within the Republican leadership. I truly hope that whoever is elected as the next Speaker of the House will work to unite the chamber in pursuit of a common path forward.”