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Republicans React With Glee To Speaker Boehner's Resignation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The pope's visit to Washington, D.C., will be a capstone to the career of House Speaker John Boehner. Hours after praying with the pontiff, Mr. Boehner decided to resign from Congress, and that set off a frenzy on Capitol Hill. Across town, the news sparked celebration at a big gathering of religious conservatives, a slice of the Republican Party that's been unhappy with the speaker for a long time. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You want to instantly fire up a crowd at the annual Values Voter Summit in D.C.? Then open with a surprise piece of news, as GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio did yesterday morning.

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MARCO RUBIO: Just a few minutes ago, Speaker Boehner announced that he will be resigning.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: The applause and whoops of joy continued for a full 30 seconds. Sen. Rubio resumed, saying he respects Boehner, but that the time had come to turn the page. A half-dozen other 2016 GOP candidates were also at the event Friday. Donald Trump described Boehner as someone who couldn't get the job done. And there was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY JINDAL: That's good. That's one down. That's 434 more to go before we're done.

GONYEA: And Jindal voiced extra disdain for the Republican side of the aisle, including both House and Senate leadership.

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JINDAL: They say they're conservative during the campaigns. They don't govern like it at all. Here's what I say in response to Speaker Boehner stepping down - Mitch McConnell, it is now your turn.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: This is a group of activists pushing hard for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, an issue that could lead to another government shutdown. Sen. Ted Cruz praised them for keeping the heat on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington? Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House.

(APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: Y'all come to town and somehow that changes.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: But Boehner isn't gone yet. His resignation takes effect the end of October, which means he'll still be in place when the fight over funding Planned Parenthood comes to a head this coming week. And Boehner insists he will not allow a government shutdown. But this audience was living in the moment.

EDITH HINKLE: I was so glad. I really was - I felt a relief. Maybe now we can get somewhere.

GONYEA: Edith Hinkle is an 84-year-old retired nurse from western Pennsylvania who's been frustrated by Boehner. She uses a word to describe him that in these circles is a damning insult - moderate.

HINKLE: I see him more as a moderate, probably because of his reticence to address issues. Sometimes I see him tied in with Obama.

GONYEA: And that, Hinkle says, is unforgivable. Boehner's troubles with the most conservative members of his party have been well-documented. He's known as a pragmatist. They see him as too quick to cut a deal and never ready to go to the mat for them. Twenty-year-old Caleb Martin is a student at Ohio Christian University in Boehner's home state.

CALEB MARTIN: He was doing absolutely nothing, like push anything. And especially as speaker of the house, we want that leadership and everything, and he wasn't leading. He wasn't, like, trying to bring the Tea Party and the normal Republicans together and, like - and fight for one common cause.

GONYEA: Then there was Karla Bruno.

KARLA BRUNO: Boehner resigned. Yes, indeed, we are very excited about that.

GONYEA: She works with a Virginia-based conservative organization, the Leadership Institute.

BRUNO: I know the pressure was there for him to resign, but he's a stubborn man. And people like power, and they don't usually give it up very easily. So the fact that he resigned tells me that the pressure was working and that the conservatives are winning.

GONYEA: But for all of the immediate joy at the Values Voter Summit, a field of potential replacements for Boehner is already emerging. And while it is early, it does seem unlikely that the next speaker will be someone who's a hero in this room. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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