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Conservatives Rally Support, And Cheer Boehner's Exit, At Summit

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When House Speaker John Boehner stepped out to address reporters about his surprise resignation today, he looked pretty upbeat. As Boehner spoke about his decision on Capitol Hill, conservative activists were gathering across town for the annual Values Voter Summit. And those conservatives who've battled with Boehner for the last four and a half years, well, they were pretty happy too. NPR's Don Gonyea spent the day at the summit, and he's with us now. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: OK, the people you spent today with have been waiting a long time to see John Boehner gone. Describe the scene when the news broke.

GONYEA: Well, it's early in the morning, right? Nobody has heard the news. They're in this ballroom. It's mostly full. They're ready to hear a slate of presidential candidates today. And they have no idea what's happening in the outside world until one of those candidates - Sen. Marco Rubio - took the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: You can hear it there. And that applause went on for a lot longer than we're playing it right now, right? Rubio went on to pay his respects to Boehner, but then he did say the time has come to turn the page. As for the cheers, those very spontaneous cheers - recall, these are the activists who see Christianity and religious freedom as being under fire in this country. They're pushing hard for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, even it means a government shutdown. Boehner is a Republican, but they say he has not been on their side. He hasn't been a fighter for their causes.

SHAPIRO: In addition to Marco Rubio, there were a lot of high-profile Republicans at this gathering today. Was the reaction to Rubio pretty consistent with what you heard from the other big hitters?

GONYEA: Mostly, mostly. Donald Trump spoke. He referenced it, saying it's a matter of electing officials who just aren't up to the job. So there's his dig at Boehner. But Sen. Rick Santorum, running for president again - he served with Boehner and the Congress. He called Boehner a strong and principled conservative, said he enjoyed working with him. Sen. Ted Cruz praised the crowd, saying it's because of you guys that we're going to get a new speaker of the House. He said that Boehner was wrong - the wrong leader for conservatives, even describing backroom deals, he said, that Boehner may have been working on with Democrats. Listen to him from a scrum with reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: The early reports are discouraging. If it is correct that the speaker, before he resigns, has cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to fund the Obama administration for the rest of its tenure, to fund Obamacare, to fund executive amnesty, to fund Planned Parenthood, to fund implementation of this Iran deal...

GONYEA: So you get a sense of it. Here's what they really get - energy. Energy - they feel good about this today regardless of who the next speaker is.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Don Gonyea on today's Values Voter Summit on the day Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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