WASHINGTON • The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Mr John Boehner, under intense pressure from conservatives in his party, will resign one of the most powerful positions in government and give up his House seat at the end of October, throwing Congress into chaos as it tries to avert a government shutdown.
Mr Boehner made the announcement in an emotional meeting with his fellow Republicans yesterday.
The Ohio representative had struggled from almost the moment he took the Speaker's gavel in 2011 to manage the challenges of divided government and to hold together his fractious and increasingly conservative Republican members.
Most recently, Mr Boehner was trying to craft a solution to keep the government open through the rest of the year, but was under pressure from a growing base of conservatives who told him that they would not vote for a Bill that did not defund women's healthcare group Planned Parenthood, which has come under attack over allegations that it improperly sells aborted foetal tissue.
Several of those members were on a path to remove Mr Boehner as Speaker, though their ability to do so was far from certain.
His surprise announcement came just a day after Pope Francis visited the Capitol, the fulfilment of a 20-year dream for Mr Boehner of having a pontiff address Congress. Mr Boehner had a private audience with him before the Pope's address to a joint meeting of Congress.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the likely leading contender to replace Mr Boehner, Republican Representative Peter King told Reuters.
Mr King was speaking after leaving the closed-door meeting at which he said Mr Boehner surprised the entire rank and file with his announcement.
Asked why the Speaker was resigning, Mr King said it was "to avoid putting the party through tumult".
Mr Boehner repeatedly over the past five years has been challenged by small-government Tea Party activists and other conservatives demanding a more confrontational approach by the Speaker with President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Earlier reports had said that Mr Boehner was planning a private meeting yesterday with House members to propose a strategy to avoid a US government shutdown while separately sending legislation defunding Planned Parenthood to Mr Obama's desk.
Current government funds run out on Wednesday, and the Senate plans on Monday to advance a Bill to fund the government through Dec 11.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS