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Boehner throws in the towel on debt ceiling fight

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  February 12, 2014 at 9:11 AM EST

Speaker of the House John Boehner leaves the Capitol building on Tuesday after voting to pass an extension on the debt ceiling. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Speaker of the House John Boehner leaves the Capitol building on Tuesday after joining Democrats in a vote to pass an extension on the debt ceiling. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em.”

House Speaker John Boehner listened to his inner Kenny Rogers Tuesday, abandoning his search for a debt ceiling compromise that could win favor with his members and forcing Democrats to come up with most of the votes needed to pass an extension with no strings attached.

The Morning Line

The passage of a “clean” debt limit hike on a narrow 221-201 vote takes the threat of a default off the table heading into the 2014 midterm elections and allows congressional Republicans to put the focus back on the rocky rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Just 28 Republicans voted with 193 Democrats to approve the measure, which allows the Treasury Department to borrow freely until March of 2015.

The sudden turnabout came after Boehner floated a handful of proposals to raise the debt limit in recent weeks aimed at drawing support from the GOP rank-and-file, with his last pitch including the rolling back of some cuts to military pensions agreed to as part of the budget agreement reached last December. It also marks a sharp departure from the party’s strategy three years ago when Boehner insisted on a dollar-for-dollar match in spending cuts with a ceiling hike.

“When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,” Boehner told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve seen that before, we’ll see it again.”

With House Republicans unable to coalesce around a proposal, and lawmakers running out of work days before the Feb. 27 deadline, Boehner told his members at a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning that he planned to move forward with a clean bill. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reports on the reaction to the announcement:

The room of Republicans sat up, stunned that Boehner was abruptly shifting away from the leadership’s plan, which had been championed 12 hours earlier at a Monday night meeting in the Capitol basement. But there were no outcries or boos. A few members whispered to each other that Boehner was right, that due to conservative opposition to any hike, he was cornered.

But they didn’t speak up or clap. Boehner just stood there for a moment after he finished, eyed the room, and walked toward his seat. On his way there, Boehner shook his head, then turned to the nearly mute crowd and wondered aloud why he wasn’t getting applause. “I’m getting this monkey off your back and you’re not going to even clap?” Boehner asked, scowling playfully at some tea-party favorites.

Democrats welcomed the development, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying on the floor ahead of the vote that the full faith and credit of the country should be “unquestioned.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Boehner “for doing the right thing,” adding that he hoped “this common-sense approach will continue throughout the year, so we can actually get some things done.”

Reid also signalled his chamber would act on the legislation “as quickly as we can.” A vote could come as early as Wednesday, with lawmakers hoping to leave town ahead of the snowstorm expected to wallop the region beginning later this evening.

Politico’s Manu Raju and Jake Sherman report that Senate Republicans appear poised to allow an up-or-down vote on the increase:

On the Senate side, Republicans were eager to get the matter taken care of, as well. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said it “makes sense to me” to allow the matter to pass quickly with 51 votes. The lower-threshold would let all Republicans vote against the plan, as opposed to the 60-vote filibuster threshold that would require the support of at least five Republicans — and potentially several days — to overcome.

“I know we’ve got a big storm approaching, and flights being canceled, plus I think people feel like it’s inevitable that we’re going to have to act on the debt ceiling,” Cornyn said. “So the question is do you want to do it now? Or put it off?”

Still, there remains some drama over the next step in the Senate, as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Tuesday that he would object to a simple majority vote, which would require some Republicans to join with Democrats to pass the measure.

CHRISTIE UPDATE

The state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal issued 18 new subpoenas Monday, targeting four new members of Gov. Chris Christie’s office, but that didn’t stop Christie from raising $1 million on a fundraising trip to Chicago for the Republican Governors Association, which he heads.

Christie largely stayed away from his troubles at home, telling his audience, “People who worked for me made some significant mistakes in judgment,” before insisting that he doesn’t think the investigations will cloud his second term agenda. Once again, as on his RGA trips to Florida and Texas, he did not appear publicly with any of the state’s GOP gubernatorial candidates, although the RGA announced a record January haul of $6 million, for which they credited Christie and other governors.

Christie’s own fundraising team got some good news on Tuesday. The New Jersey campaign finance authorities gave the governor’s re-election team permission to raise and spend money to comply with subpoenas from the ongoing investigations related to the bridge scandal.

But despite that ruling and more welcome news from the New Jersey State Police that Christie did not fly over Fort Lee during the week of the closures, stories about Christie’s aggressive leadership style and the improprieties of his confidantes keep coming.

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Carol Leonnig examined the nearly seven years New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent as the Garden State’s top federal prosecutor and discovered a “penchant for pushing boundaries.”

“Along the way,” they write, “he honed a brand of politics built largely on transactional relationships with supporters and adversaries alike.”

Those transactions flowed from his political circle, too. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein investigates the potential conflicts of interest motivating Christie’s point man at the Port Authority, David Samson.

And we’ve heard a lot about Christie’s Livingston High School days — whom he was friends with and whom he wasn’t — but Real Clear Politics’ Scott Conroy has an up-close look at Christie’s activism and leadership at the University of Delaware, where the bully narrative, he writes, would be oversimplistic.

LINE ITEMS

  • The New York Times’ Robert Draper looks at the personal narrative crafted by Texas Democrat Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial campaign and the questions raised over inaccuracies with her story.

  • Janet Yellen testified on unemployment before Congress Tuesday in her first public remarks as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

  • Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty.

  • Roll Call’s Emma Dumain filed a curtain-raiser as House Democrats leave for their annual retreat on Wednesday. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe obtained a copy of their schedule, which discusses strategies to appeal to women voters and implement a higher minimum wage and immigration reform.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released his first TV ad of the 2014 cycle on Tuesday. The spot highlights his opposition to the president’s health care law and his questioning of the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

  • Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter were among the companies that issued an open letter to Mr. Obama and Congress Tuesday, urging them to reform government surveillance as part of an online protest dubbed “The Day We Fight Back.”.

  • Politico’s John Bresnahan reports that Mitch McConnell’s primary challenger, Matt Bevin, backed the 2008 federal bank bailout he is now using to attack the Senate Minority Leader.

  • In other news about the Kentucky Senate race, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., explained his support for McConnell’s re-election bid by saying, “He asked me when there was nobody else in the race. And I said yes.”

  • In his first state of the city address, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio pushed a liberal agenda prioritizing a minimum wage increase and identification cards for undocumented workers.

  • The president issued an executive order Monday changing the name of the National Security Staff to the National Security Council Staff.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will seek a fifth term in 2016.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The Obama administration has delayed the employer mandate to enroll in federal health insurance coverage for medium-sized businesses and relaxed the mandate for some larger businesses. Alex Wayne of Bloomberg News examined the breaking news with Judy Woodruff.


  • In a New York Times report published Tuesday, the White House confirmed it was discussing whether to target an American citizen living in Pakistan who is a suspected terrorist. One of the story’s authors, Mark Mazzetti, discussed the revelation with Judy Woodruff.


  • New details about an organized sniper attack on an electrical substation near San Jose, Calif., last April are raising concerns about the vulnerability of America’s power grid. Judy Woodruff spoke with Jon Wellinghof, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Mark Weatherford, former deputy undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, about the risks and regulation.

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Bridget Bowman and Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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