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Boehner Facing Scrutiny Within GOP Over Fiscal Cliff Talks

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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

The Morning Line

House Speaker John Boehner has yet to ink a deal with President Obama, but the Republican already faces an unruly, wary caucus.

GOP lawmakers find themselves in a far less desirable position from two years ago, when Mr. Obama, humbled by losses in the 2010 midterm election, was forced to broker an extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts with an incoming Republican majority infused with energy from the tea party.

Now it’s the president who is bolstered by results at the ballot box, and some Republicans are openly questioning Boehner’s leadership, as most of the negotiations on avoiding going over the fiscal cliff are taking place behind closed doors.

Boehner told members they should not make plans for Christmas, as compromise appeared to be no closer late Wednesday.

Jonathan Weisman reports in the New York Times that the frustration among Boehner’s rank-and-file is “striking,” especially when added to the “storm of criticism Mr. Boehner is facing on conservative talk radio and Internet outlets” for suggesting an openness to tax hikes and from punishing his more outspoken critics through the committee assignment process.

Weisman rounds up the criticism:

Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, who was removed from the Agriculture Committee, said the vast majority of his district wants him to oppose Mr. Boehner’s re-election as speaker.

Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan and another subject of the committee purge, said, “If Speaker Boehner wants to come back to my district, he’s not going to be met with very much welcome.”

In another twist, some of the House’s most uncompromising conservatives joined ranks with its most ardent liberals in embracing a ride into the fiscal unknown next month. Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, said the across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs would “break the mold and get some real cuts for a change.”

Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, compared fears of a fiscal crisis to hysteria over the end of the Mayan calendar later this month.

“A bad deal is worse than no deal at all,” she said. “What is being made of this fiscal cliff is too much.”

Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser found Republicans who are frustrated because they feel shut out of the process. Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana said it is “comical” and “sad” that things aren’t being done in the open. “All the work’s being done behind the scenes by staff and then the speaker and the president,” he complained.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are sounding notes of compromise. Outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said on CBS Thursday morning that he thinks his party will let Mr. Obama increase taxes.

New polling indicates the public is less than thrilled with what’s happening in Washington.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday, 65 percent of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, said political leaders should agree to a compromise plan to reduce the budget deficit that has a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. Only 28 percent of respondents said they wanted lawmakers to stick to their traditional positions.

The public is split on whether a deal will get done, with 48 percent saying they are “optimistic” and 48 percent responding they are “pessimistic” an agreement will be reached before the year-end deadline.

The poll shows that a majority of Americans — 56 percent — would blame both parties equally if a compromise does not come. About a quarter — 24 percent — would put most of the blame on Republicans, while 19 percent said Mr. Obama and Democrats would be more at fault.

Another survey, from Bloomberg News, found that the president had strong support for his demand to raise tax rates on the top 2 percent of wage earners.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Mr. Obama is right to insist on increasing taxes on the wealthy in return for cuts to entitlement programs. The survey also showed that 52 percent of Americans back raising rates on households making more than $250,000 annually, and the number of those in favor jumps to 60 percent when the level is set at $1 million.

The Bloomberg poll also showed that 60 percent of respondents said Republicans have placed too much emphasis on protecting wealthier Americans from tax hikes.

Grover Norquist, author of the famed Americans for Tax Reform pledge, said it is the voters who will hold Republicans accountable if they raise taxes. On Wednesday’s NewsHour he spoke with Judy Woodruff and compared spending cut promises to “pink unicorns.”

Reporter-producer Cassie M. Chew took a look at two members who oppose the pledge: Republican Rep.-elect Ted Yoho of Florida and Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey.

Yoho told Cassie that even though he campaigned against tax hikes, he would not sign the pledge because it could hinder him later: “I don’t want to have that kind of limitation.” Andrews, the lone Democratic signer on Norquist’s list in the next Congress, took the pledge two decades ago but no longer agrees with it, his chief of staff said.

Watch the Norquist segment here or below:


  • NewsHour politics desk assistant Jessica Fink attended the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region media event for an inside look at military preparations for the 57th presidential inauguration. Opening remarks took place on a 60-by-40-foot floor map of Washington, D.C. A few dozen more rehearsals will take place on the map, the purpose of which is to confront potential logistical conflicts before they arise on Jan. 21. In anticipation of elevated cell phone and Twitter traffic, event planners are bringing in additional satellite towers to the city. All extra infrastructure put in place for inauguration, from warming tents to mall fencing, must be taken down in time for morning rush hour traffic the following day. “It’s really a ballet, synchronizing all the efforts,” Brig. Gen. Scanlan said. The Washington Post has more on how the map will be used.

  • NewsHour desk assistant Geoffrey Lou Guray attended a breakfast featuring Democratic pollster Joel Benenson and hosted by Third Way. “There is no such thing as the tea party,” Benenson said. “The tea party is the Republican base. It’s the Christian coalition with a new name.”

  • BuzzFeed’s John Stanton writes what a lot of reporters think and don’t say: The fiscal cliff debate is boring.

  • Politico’s Reid Epstein and Carrie Budoff Brown see a diminished role for Vice President Biden.

  • New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie told Barbara Walters he is “more than a little” overweight but that it is “ridiculous” to think he is too heavy to be president.

  • Activists want to extend Michigan’s new “right-to-work” status to other states.

  • The Root looks at the effect Michigan’s change will have on black America.

  • The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe writes that Senate Democrats who survived tough races are getting plum panel assignments.

  • The Associated Press reports that Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., had employed as an unpaid intern an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender. The 18-year-old immigrant is now under arrest and facing deportation. Menendez said Wednesday his office had no knowledge of the intern’s criminal background.

  • Thursday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at the $1.1 trillion in tax breaks, deductions and credits that Americans are taking advantage of.


  • Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn from Daily Download talked to Gwen Ifill about Alan Simpson’s “Gangnam Style” encouraging of thousands of young people to sign up for fiscal cliff updates and several hundred thousand petition signatures. Plus, the Pope is tweeting.

Watch here or below.

  • This week’s edition of Judy’s Notebook looks at the role of women in the president’s electoral victory.

  • The latest in our PRI series about cancer abroad looks at vinegar as a fighter of the disease in India.

  • Jenny Marder examines the chances of an asteroid collision.


Jessica Fink contributed to this report.

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

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