House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday that he would be resigning from his position and congressional seat at the end of October, much to the surprise of his colleagues on the Hill. Although the Ohio Republican claimed that the decision was one he had been mulling over for a while, many suspected that Boehner's recent run-ins with the right wing of the party had forced him out. For his part, Boehner insisted that it was Pope Francis' comments to him the night before which had made him rethink his original plan to leave at the end of November.
During a news conference on Friday, Boehner recounted the words of the Pontiff, who had been in New York and Washington on an official papal visit.
"The Pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says please pray for me," said Boehner, explaining that he and the Pontiff had spoken privately for a few minutes in the moments after Francis' speech to Congress, which centered largely on acceptance and generosity to the poor. "Who am I to pray for the Pope? But I did."
Boehner added that he had made a tentative decision in that moment to leave his seat in Congress, although he decided to sleep on the matter before announcing.
Robert Costa of The Washington Post reported that the night before Boehner's surprise announcement, the Speaker had been relatively calm and unusually relaxed, seeking out the reporter and Politico's Jake Sherman after his meetings for the day had ended.
"Instead of rushing past and ignoring our questions — the Boehner response familiar to lingering reporters — he slowed and moved closer, extending his hands," wrote Costa on Friday, indicating that the GOP Speaker had taken them aside to pantomime the interchange between himself and the Pontiff earlier in the day.
"We sensed that something had changed," wrote Costa. "Boehner was at peace."
Whether Boehner's decision truly hinged on the words of the Catholic leader or not was up for debate, especially given his strife with the more extreme factions of his party and the comments of one right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who claimed the GOP leader had struck a deal with congressional Democrats to continue funding Planned Parenthood after he was gone, and with whom Boehner has traded barbs in the recent past (The Daily Caller reported in August that Boehner had referred to Cruz as a "jackass" at a fundraiser in Colorado, in response to the senator's rally to shutdown the government over Obamacare a year earlier).
But no matter what extraneous details factored into Boehner's announcement, there was no denying that the brief exchange moved Boehner to a major career tipping point.
"Last night I started thinking about this and this morning I woke up and I said my prayers — as I always do — and I decided today's the day I'm going to do this," explained Boehner on Friday. "[It was] as simple as that."