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Congress Returns With Hefty To-Do List

Lawmakers return to work Tuesday. File photo by Tom WIlliams/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

Congress officially gets back to work Tuesday with a host of big challenges ahead.

Working out a solution on the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts and heading off the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration are the top items on the lame
duck agenda, but Congress will also address the farm bill, fallout from the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and a handful of minor issues that, of course, always have the potential to become major.

And consider this: As the focus turned to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House emailed a message that couldn’t be more pointed about its willingness
to fight.

“Now you have a choice to make. This debate can either stay trapped in Washington DC, or you can make sure your friends and neighbors participate. You’ve shown that
getting people outside of Washington involved shifts the conversation in favor of the middle-class priorities,” the email read.

As lawmakers arrive in Washington for the first few days of the lame duck session, President Obama on Tuesday will meet with the leaders of the largest labor unions,
officials with the Center for American Progress and organizers with MoveOn.

As Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post reported, attendees are expected to urge the president to reject the kind of cuts to Medicare and Social Security
he put on the table in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over raising the debt limit in the summer of 2011:

Now, with negotiations resuming, Obama has not made clear precisely how far he would go on entitlements. But people close to the White House say officials believe
the election strengthened their hand and reduced the need to make concessions. The extent of any entitlement changes may depend on how much new tax revenue Republicans are willing to accept.

In the negotiations, Obama may have to decide whether he is willing to break with his liberal allies in pursuit of a bipartisan agreement aimed at avoiding the year-end
fiscal cliff — $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that many economists say could plunge the nation into recession.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will sit down with CEOs from some of the nation’s biggest companies, including PepsiCo, Chevron, Ford, Dow, American Express and General Electric.

And on Friday Mr. Obama will huddle with congressional leadership, with the goal of “a discussion about the best ways to move our economy forward and find a balanced
approach to reduce the deficit,” a White House aide said.

Any major compromise will need to be forged between divided chambers and a Democratic president, with leadership elections on the Hill serving as a backdrop.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., presides over a fractured conference unsure about the direction it wants to take for the next two years and still cognizant
of the potential for Tea Party challenges to upend its members. His party will select new leaders and a replacement for Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who held two terms as the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

But the intrigue doesn’t end there. Democrats are wondering what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will do, and if she’ll try to install one of her lieutenants into
a plum spot in a power play with Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer. Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong reported Monday
that the she will announce her intentions to the Democratic caucus Wednesday morning. Hoyer’s offices told Strong he was left with the impression that she will stay in Congress instead of retire.

Paul Kane reported in the Washington Post
that Pelosi “is considering ending her historic 10-year reign as Democratic leader after the second disappointing election in a row for her caucus,” something her aides said is part of the normal decision-making process.

Also making news are the incoming representatives and senators-elect, who are arriving in Washington to meet their new colleagues and learn the ins and outs of their
new jobs

As the fun gets started on Capitol Hill, here are some NewsHour regulars and other smarty-pants types who track the ins and outs of legislation and political battles.

Todd Zwillich @toddzwillich
Steve Dennis @steventdennis
Meredith Shiner @meredithshiner
Daniel Strauss @danielstrauss4
Manu Raju @mkraju
Jonathan Weisman @jonathanweisman
Felicia Sonmez @feliciasonmez
Susan Davis @davisusan
Michael McAuliff @mmcauliff
Sahil Kapur @sahilkapur
Seth McLaughlin @sethmclaughlin


The NewsHour devoted much of Monday’s program to Veterans Day. We hosted a discussion with Peter Sleeth
of ProPublica about lost military records and talked with
Dartmouth College’s James Wright about war memorials.

Cindy Huang and Ellen Rolfes of the online team put together profiles
of the 13 incoming House freshmen who are veterans. Don’t miss the photos.

They also took a more in-depth look at Rep.-elect Tom Cotton,
R-Ark., and Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard,


  • President Obama is considering
    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as defense secretary. The Boston Globe adds that such a move
    would put more of a focus on Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is also a Democrat and
    who would appoint a replacement for Kerry and might want the job himself.

  • The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reports
    that the FBI probe resulting in the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director has ensnared Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett, Evan Perez and Siobhan Gorman report that the FBI agent who launched the investigation into Petraeus is under scrutiny
    for his handling of the case.

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., threatened Monday to subpoena documents
    related to Petraeus’ trip to Benghazi, Liya, last month. “We are entitled to this trip report. And if we have to go to the floor of the Senate on a subpoena, we will do just that,” she told MSNBC.

  • Spelling Petraeus may be difficult for some,
    but that fact hasn’t stood in the way of people forming an opinion about the scandal involving the CIA director.

  • Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan spoke with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
    on Monday, telling the paper that Mr. Obama “won fair and square” and saying he wanted to return to Washington after his experience as the vice presidential nominee to be “part of the solution” for fixing the country’s fiscal problems.

  • Don’t expect filibuster reform any time soon. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton notes
    that Democrats don’t have the votes to make it happen. But Talking Points Memo looks at
    the five Republican senators most likely to work with the Democrats in the coming year. Could Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky be one of them? Politico sees an evolution
    from the conservative Republican elected in 2010.

  • “Fewer incoming members of the House and Senate have signed the pledge against tax increases run by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, in a reflection not only
    of the seats that Democrats gained but of the success they’ve enjoyed in vilifying Norquist,” The Hill reports.

  • The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Niall Stanage put David Plouffe at the top of the list of advisers set to leave the White House in Mr. Obama’s second term.

  • In the new Roll Call, Shira Toeplitz profiles
    Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly, who gave Democrats an unexpected win in Indiana.

  • Secessionists exist, in large numbers. And they’re ready for a dialogue
    with the president.

  • From the Phoenix New Times:
    “Mesa resident Holly Solomon thinks it’s her husband’s fault that President Obama was re-elected last week, because he
    didn’t vote. Not only does Solomon, 28, have a thorough misunderstanding of our nation’s electoral system, she also ran over her husband with her car because of this, according to Gilbert police.”

“Totally disappointed, man,” Eric Hartsburg tells Politico
about the results of the presidential contest. “I’m the guy who has egg all over his face, but instead of egg, it’s a big Romney/Ryan tattoo. It’s there for life.”

  • Former Virginia Sen. George Allen, who lost his Senate bid against Democrat Tim Kaine, told the Virginian-Pilot on Monday
    that he has “no intention” of running for office again.

  • Congress will have its first openly bisexual member, with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema declared the winner
    in Arizona’s 9th District.

  • Colorado resident Hannah Pechan, who Christina jokingly called the last undecided voter in America,
    ended up backing Gary Johnson.

  • Politico reports that Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is facing an ethics complaint
    over travel paid for by a campaign donor.

  • Romney put up a goose egg in 59 Philadelphia voting
    wards on Election Day.


  • Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Thomas Peters, cultural director for the National Organization for Marriage, appeared
    on Monday’s NewsHour to talk through their different perspectives since voters in four states gave a thumbs up to same-sex marriage on Election Day.

Watch them debate the issue here or below:

  • NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman talked with
    a professor who built a tool to help online news consumers analyze the level of balance in political ideology they encounter through their online reading habits.


Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij,
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