RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We have major news from Capitol Hill this morning. Just minutes ago, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he will resign from Congress next month. His announcement comes as a showdown looms in Congress next week over a possible government shutdown. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis joins us now from the Capitol. Good morning.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: How surprised are you, I mean, at this resignation now?
DAVIS: This is absolutely stunning, Renee. I don't believe that anybody in the Capitol, any of the rank-and-file Republicans, reporters, anyone saw this coming. You know, it's not new that John Boehner has faced constant pushback from a group of conservatives in his own party. But I don't believe that anybody thought that if he stared them down, he couldn't ultimately hold onto his speakership. What John Boehner is apparently saying this morning is that he does not think that that ongoing struggle, that constant push and pull between leadership and the conservative base, is doing harm to the party and he's not going to be a party to it anymore. So not only is he resigning his speakership, but he's also resigning from the House entirely, effective October 30.
MONTAGNE: And he, B, thinks, as you - he does think that this is bad for the party, but does this make a government shutdown more or less likely? I mean, he'll still be speaker, but a lame-duck speaker next week.
DAVIS: You know, I - we're - this is happening in real time. And we were talking to members just as they were coming out of this meeting, and they all seemed sort of stunned, even the members that were rallying for him to leave. But the sense is that initially, this was - probably means a shutdown is less likely because the people that were most gunning to use the shutdown to go after leadership or - particularly over the Planned Parenthood funding issue - now think that they have a victory. They've won. And this is something that they can go to their supporters and they feel like, you know, the next fight is a new fight over who the speaker should be and who should lead them and the standards by which they should lead the conference. So I think it makes it less likely, but it is not entirely assured yet.
MONTAGNE: Well, after Boehner leaves, then, does it mean that the far-right in the House, who have, as you suggested, been gunning for him, are they in a position to take over the speakership?
DAVIS: No, and that seems fairly clear. What seems most likely is that the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, I think is the odds-on favorite to become the next speaker. Even conservatives that were unhappy with John Boehner would say McCarthy might be a good alternative. But none of the conservatives who are most known for being vocal critics of Boehner - none of them, I believe, at this date and time have the 218 votes they would need to become speaker because, remember, the speaker is a constitutional officer. It is not just a party position. He oversees the whole House, therefore has to get a majority of the whole 435-seat House. So it's going to have to be a unifying figure. It's going to have to be somebody that the majority - almost all Republicans - are going to have to get behind. And the most likely candidate is Kevin McCarthy, but it's not a done deal.
MONTAGNE: You know, I'm going to ask you - maybe it's an odd question, but let me throw it at you. Speaker Boehner invited the pope to address Congress. He sat behind him. He was clearly touched by his speech. The pope warned against politics splitting into two camps. Is there any chance any of that had an effect on him?
DAVIS: I think we have to think it absolutely did. He's a devoutly Catholic person. He attends mass almost every morning. He prays every day. And I think having the pope come and being the speaker that invited the first pope to address is a nice capstone to his career. I think maybe if he was struggling with this that it was something that it was not a bad way to go out on.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks very much.
DAVIS: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: With the news that House Speaker John Boehner is resigning from Congress next month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.