Boehner’s ‘Plan B’ Implodes, Placing Him on Shaky Standing

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  December 21, 2012 at 9:17 AM EDT

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Perhaps the Mayans were talking about “Plan B.”

In the face of unyielding opposition from conservative members of the House GOP conference, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced to abandon a vote on his proposal to avert the year-end fiscal cliff that would have raised taxes on households earning more than $1 million.

“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said late Thursday night, one day after GOP leaders proclaimed they had enough votes for passage. “Now it is up to the president to work with Sen. Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”

As the vote drew closer, whip counts showed as many as 26 defectors and almost as many undecideds, according to The Hill’s tally. Boehner could only afford to lose 24 votes. No Democrats had announced plans to support the measure, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said had no chance of passage in his chamber and which President Obama threatened to veto.

In a story that questioned whether Boehner would retain his gavel next year, Politico reported: “Things were so bad” for Boehner that he “stood in front of the House Republican Conference and recited the Serenity Prayer. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’”

Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser reported that the news was met with “disbelief” by the caucus: “A few lawmakers clapped in appreciation. Others were surprised.” The Hill described Boehner as “distraught” and “shocked.”

The public rebuke of Boehner comes 11 days before nearly $500 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes begin to take effect and leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Washington as lawmakers head home for the holidays.

The House will not be in session until after Christmas. The Senate, meanwhile, will meet briefly on Friday before adjourning until Thursday.

Boehner will hold a media availability Friday morning on Capitol Hill, where he is certain to face questions not only about the path forward on fiscal cliff negotiations, but whether he will be able to deliver enough Republican votes for an agreement when the time comes.

In the aftermath of the collapse of Boehner’s “Plan B,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama would continue to strive for a deal that extends tax breaks for middle-income families.

“The president’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days,” Carney said in the statement. “The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy.”

While Boehner sought to put the onus for reaching a deal on Mr. Obama and Reid, a spokesman for the senator said Boehner must play a role in the talks.

“Speaker Boehner’s partisan approach wasted an entire week and pushed middle-class families closer to the edge,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement. “The only way to avoid the cliff altogether is for Speaker Boehner to return to negotiations, and work with President Obama and the Senate to forge a bipartisan deal.”

That will require Boehner to take another risk with his members, who balked at the idea of raising rates on millionaires. Any package agreed to with Democrats will have a lower threshold, somewhere in the ballpark of the $400,000 included in the president’s latest offer.

If Boehner can still extract significant spending cuts and savings to entitlement programs, he would likely be able to get some Republicans to go along, but it could require him to jettison the GOP’s “majority of the majority” doctrine in order to get it done.

ONE WEEK LATER

Seven days since Adam Lanza shot and killed children, teachers and his mother in Newtown, Conn., and while many states planned moments of silence in honor of the victims, Mr. Obama released a video response to the petitions posted on the White House website through the We the People project.

An administration official told the Morning Line that petitions relating to gun violence have amassed “more than 400,000 signatures, making it one of the most popular petition issues since the launch of We the People.” It was the the fastest petition ever to reach 25,000 signatures needed for consideration.

A petition calling for the administration to “Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress” had nearly 200,000 signers, while another with nearly 58,000 signatures took a different angle: “We ask President Obama to support law abiding gun owners in this time of tragedy.” The majority of the 32 petitions urge some form of gun control.

“We hear you,” Mr. Obama says in the video. “If we’re going to succeed it’s going to take a sustained effort from mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, law enforcement and responsible gun owners. Organizing, speaking up , calling their members of Congress as many times as it takes. Standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of all our kids. That’s how change happens, because of committed Americans who work to make it happen.”

Watch it here or below:

The NRA has a Friday morning news conference planned. The NewsHour plans to cover the event live on our website, pbs.org/newshour.

Don’t miss the PBS special, “After Newtown,” airing Friday night and hosted by our own Gwen Ifill. She will have an interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Hari Sreenivasan’s will look at media coverage of the tragedy and the special will include robust coverage from all of PBS’ landmark shows.

HELLO, HEIDI

Sen.-elect Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., joined the NewsHour on Thursday night to discuss the major issues she’ll face when she enters the 113th Congress. A Democrat who narrowly won her seat in a conservative-leaning state, Heitkamp told Jeffrey Brown that she plans to support the Keystone Pipeline and fiscal reform.

But on one of the topics dominating the news — gun policy — she hesitated.

We need to talk not only about gun laws and what needs to be examined there, but we also need to look at mental health, school security, community development that will provide some — hopefully some hope and help with parents with children who are struggling with mental illness … I think all of this talk really is putting the cart before the horse, when we haven’t had the discussion about what it is that has created this circumstance.

Watch Jeffrey’s interview here or below:

The NewsHour has posted additional congressional entrance interviews — with Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen.-elect Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sen.-elect Angus King of Maine — on this handy page. Early in January we’ll have an interview with Sen.-elect Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

PROGRAMMING NOTE

Your Morning Line team will be taking a break for the holidays. You may hear from us, but we won’t be back to a regular publishing schedule until after the New Year.

We’re wishing you and your family a restful and joyous holiday season. Thanks for reading.

LINE ITEMS

  • MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” interviews conservative Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who in the past 24 hours emerged as a chief intraparty critic of Boehner.

  • Newark, N.J., Democratic Mayor Cory Booker announced in a web video he will explore a run for the Senate seat now held by Democrat Frank Lautenberg in 2014. The 88-year-old Lautenberg has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election but his office issued a statement Thursday: “This is not the time for political distractions and the Senator will address politics next year.”

  • The Associated Press reports that Mr. Obama “is restricting the inaugural balls to the lowest number in 60 years, with just two official parties plus a concert honoring military families.”

  • It was an emotional send-off in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

  • A new Pew Research Center poll on guns finds that a plurality believe gun ownership does more to protect people from becoming victims of crimes than it does to put peoples’ safety at risk.

  • Chris Cillizza rounds up the NRA’s lobbying dollars for members of Congress.

  • Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford — the Republican of Appalachian Trail “hiking” fame — plans to run for Congress.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing polling back home in Kentucky about actress Ashley Judd, who may challenge him in 2014.

  • The House Ethics Committee announces that losing Senate candidate and outgoing Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., “broke House rules, laws and standards of conduct related to conflicts of interest when members of her office assisted her husband’s medical practice with Veterans Affairs, Medicare and Medicaid claims.”

  • Rob Collins will lead the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

  • So, fess up, Washington! Who sent Heard on the Hill an anonymous gift box that included condoms?

  • Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is about elder care and finds that the average cost of a private room at a nursing home is $83,000 per year.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein joined NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni on Thursday’s show to discuss why Boehner attempted to force a vote on a tax package that would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. They talked before House leadership called off the vote.

Watch the segment here or below:

  • Paul Solman cites Boston College political science professor Robert Faulkner in a “Making Sense” answer about the philosophical groundings of justice and politics.

  • “I think it’s fair to say we have all been crying for a week.” Gwen reflects on the emotional conversations with usually smooth-talking lawmakers about the tragedy in Newtown.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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