The first shot fired against House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in the wake of the stunning announcement of his resignation Friday, did not come from Donald Trump. It did not come from a presidential candidate outside of Washington.
Rather, it came from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida). The presidential candidate and freshman senator, minutes after news leaked from the House Republican conference meeting, told a crowd at the Values Voter Summit in Washington that Boehner was resigning.
They cheered the news. And despite saying he was not there to “bash anyone,” many Boehner allies thought Rubio did just that with his next comment.
“The time has come to turn the page,” he said. “The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country.”
Privately and publicly, many Boehner allies fumed. They saw it as a cheap pander to a conservative audience deeply sceptical of Boehner.
And for a candidate quickly becoming an establishment favourite off a strong performance in last week’s Republican presidential debate, they considered it curious, given the potential overlap in allies and donors with Boehner and Rubio’s presidential campaign.
“For someone who claims to be a statesman, he showed a real lack of judgment and class,” a GOP aide told Business Insider.
Some Boehner allies openly noted that Boehner never opted to take up Rubio’s signature legislation from his time in the Senate — the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but never received a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Other Boehner defenders highlighted his accomplishments.
“John Boehner is a conservative leader responsible for ending earmarks, cutting spending, and creating the Benghazi Select Committee,” a former Boehner aide told Business Insider. “Taking cheap shots at him today should be beneath the dignity of any Republican presidential candidate.”
Boehner said he decided to resign Friday morning, following an emotional day with Pope Francis’ address to a joint meeting of Congress that culminated years of efforts by Boehner to bring the pontiff to Washington. He was emotional during a press conference Friday in describing a moment in which Pope Francis put his arm around Boehner and asked Boehner to pray for him.
Former Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), who retired from Congress after last year’s mid-term elections, had dinner with Boehner and his family Thursday night. He also was perturbed by Rubio seeming to “revel” in telling the audience that Boehner was resigning.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. Speaker Boehner has done, in my mind, an outstanding job dealing with an impossible situation,” Latham said. “Whoever’s going to be the next speaker is going to have to deal with the same dynamics. So I think that’s very unfortunate.”
He added: “To me, that’s not appropriate, when someone has just announced that they’re going to be retiring for the good of the institution, to make any statement that would not be positive toward what he’s done.”
To be sure, a handful of other presidential candidates eventually took their chance to tee off on Boehner.
Trump said he didn’t think Boehner was conservative. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has famously feuded with Boehner during his three years in the Senate, suggested Boehner “cut a deal” with President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to land a “cushy K Street” job. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) suggested Boehner had “changed” during his time as speaker.
Others, however, lauded his speakership. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called him a “good man” in a statement he tweeted out. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said his state and America “are stronger today because of John Boehner.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) praised his dedication to public service and said the pope’s visit to Washington marked a “fitting cap to a great career.”
Boehner’s allies seemed surprised Rubio wasn’t among the latter group.
“I believe we should all come together and pull the party together instead of pulling it apart,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), a Boehner ally who has endorsed Kasich.
He said he “wasn’t going to bash” Rubio, but added: “America deserves our best, not pettiness.”
Boehner’s office did not comment. Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.