WASHINGTON -- Rep. Peter King called Republican House Speaker John Boehner's decision to resign under pressure from disgruntled conservative GOP members "a victory for the crazies."
After Boehner made the surprising announcement Friday morning, King (R-Seaford) said, "I'm disappointed. John was as effective a speaker as you could find under these circumstances."
King blamed the GOP bloc called the House Freedom Caucus, which includes 30 to 40 conservative members who have pressed Boehner to deny funding for the government over issues such as abortion and threatened to challenge his leadership in a vote this fall.
King, considered a moderate, said the fight among House Republicans in the weeks ahead over who will succeed Boehner as speaker will be "a real battle for the soul of the party."
But Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is more closely aligned with the conservative bloc, said, "I am confident that with the speaker's resignation, our conference will come out of this stronger, more united and more effective."
Neither King nor Zeldin would say who they want to take Boehner's place.
But King said he could support current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is ranked just below speaker. King rated him as the leading candidate.
House Democrats said the GOP struggle over leadership comes at a time when Congress must reach a deal on funding the federal government, raise the debt limit and reauthorize the highway trust fund.
"It's not good for the Congress and especially not good for the country," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).
"It's destabilizing, and it suggests that Republicans are going to be focused in the next months on their problems instead of the needs of hardworking American families."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) raised concerns about the effect of Boehner's resignation on the efforts to renew the expiring James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Its health monitoring program for those affected by the terrorist attacks ends Wednesday.
"I hope his successor recognizes the need for cooperation, particularly as we continue to negotiate a permanent extension," Gillibrand said.
Boehner, who became speaker after Republicans routed the Democratic majority in the 2010 elections, made his bombshell announcement at a weekly GOP conference meeting.
"This is a victory for the crazies," King said. "You can't appease these people."
King has criticized the conservative bloc for turning past budget negotiations into cliffhangers: rejecting a federal spending deal in 2011 only to accept a lesser one, and shutting down the government in 2013 in a bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act only to yield and allow it to be opened again.
Boehner's resignation clears the way for the House, with the help of Democrats, to pass temporary funding next week to keep the government open. But the new speaker will have to deal with longer-term funding.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in line to be the next Senate Democratic leader in 2017, urged the Republican majority "to work with Democrats in a constructive way, rather than let a handful of extreme right-wingers dictate his party's policy."
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said he hopes the resignation "does not signal that the House Republican Caucus will become even more polarizing."