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Obama Dodges Fight on Rice, but There’s No Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio

House Speaker John Boehner walks past reporters at the Capitol after meeting with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama avoided one fight Thursday, accepting the decision by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to withdraw herself from consideration for secretary of state, just as he and House Speaker John Boehner prepared to face off again over the fiscal cliff in a 50-minute session at the White House that both sides described as “frank.”

The meeting did not produce even the contours of a deal, and now the two men are hundreds of miles apart, literally, as the Republican leader returned to his home state of Ohio.

It was the second time in less than a week that Mr. Obama and Boehner sat down together, hoping to hammer out a compromise to avoid nearly $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts at year’s end.

Earlier in the day, Boehner held court with reporters on Capitol Hill, where he again charged that Mr. Obama had not put forward a serious plan for deficit reduction.

“Republicans want to solve this problem by getting this spending line down,” Boehner said, standing next to a chart projecting spending growth in the coming years. “The president wants to pretend that spending isn’t the problem. That’s why we don’t have an agreement.”

At his Thursday afternoon briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney disputed Boehner’s characterization, contending that Mr. Obama was the only participant in the negotiations who had offered specific reductions.

“The fact is, is while they insist on greater spending cuts — and we’re willing to have that conversation about additional spending cuts — we need to know what it is they’re proposing,” Carney said. “And they have yet to tell you that, and they have yet to tell us that.”

As the fiscal cliff saga appeared on a collision course with the Dec. 31 deadline, Mr. Obama was also left grappling with Rice’s move to take her name off the list of possible successors to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Rice explained her decision in a Washington Post editorial on Friday:

I grew up in Washington, D.C., and I’ve seen plenty of battles over politics and policy. But a national security appointment, much less a potential one, should never be turned into a political football. There are far bigger issues at stake. So I concluded this distraction has to stop.

Rice has been under fire from Republicans on Capitol Hill for the information she provided in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

In the editorial, Rice again insisted that she relied on information provided to her by the intelligence community and did her job in “good faith”:

I have never sought in any way, shape or form to mislead the American people. To do so would run counter to my character and my life of public service. But in recent weeks, new lines of attack have been raised to malign my character and my career. Even before I was nominated for any new position, a steady drip of manufactured charges painted a wholly false picture of me. This has interfered increasingly with my work on behalf of the United States at the United Nations and with America’s agenda.

The New York Times’ David Sanger and Jodi Kantor examine Rice’s reputation for bluntness, which may have endeared her to Mr. Obama, but not to everyone.

Scott Wilson of the Washington Post reports that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, appears to be the clear front-runner for the secretary of state post in the wake of Rice’s withdrawal:

Administration officials say Kerry, who played the part of Mitt Romney in Obama’s debate preparation this year, is an ally who has supported the president’s foreign policy agenda. Kerry is not as personally close to Obama as Rice is, but several White House officials said he is trusted.

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have made clear, in private, that they prefer Kerry as the next secretary of state, according to several senators and aides who requested anonymity to speak freely about the president’s choice.

Judy Woodruff got the latest from the White House on the NewsHour Thursday during a chat with Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News. Talev said the White House is expected to announce a handful of its selections next week, including posts at Defense and possibly the CIA.

Watch their debrief here or below:

We also talked with Andy Kohut about his Pew Research Center poll that shows Mr. Obama with the upper-hand with the American public. Watch that here or below.

As the fiscal cliff draws ever closer, Boehner continues to have a problem on his hands.

Consider an email Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., sent to his supporters Thursday.

Under the subject line, “Mr. Speaker, release the secret scorecard!” Huelskamp complains that Boehner removed him from the budget and agriculture committees. (Booted from their positions on the financial services committee were Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona and Walter Jones of North Carolina, while Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan lost his seat on the budget committee. Jones is one of the more liberal members of the GOP, but the others are conservatives who have been thorns in Boehner’s side since winning in 2010.)

“Here we are in the middle of our very survival as a country, and Republican leadership in the House is attacking its own members who are carrying the message to hold the line on taxes and reduce the spending,” Huelskamp wrote in the message, which also asked for political donations. “They call it a Fiscal Cliff, I think it’s more like a Fiscal Abyss — a hole so deep we won’t be able to get out.”

He charged, “It’s clear that Republican leaders in the House know they are failing, so they are trying to divert attention away from their failure (and their secret plan to raise taxes) and turn it on members like me who refuse to accept ever-increasing spending and expanding power in Washington,” and he promised that he “won’t back down.”

For more, reporters from CQ Roll Call interviewed Huelskamp on the news outlet’s Sirius/XM show Thursday.


With new numbers set to come out Friday, the NewsHour is taking an in-depth look at how the Obama administration’s DREAM Act move, which allows deferred action for illegal immigrant youth, is faring in the months since the changes took effect.

Ray Suarez traveled with coordinating producer Elizabeth Summers to Los Angeles to tell the story. We’re also exploring the issue in-depth online.

Reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz kicks off the coverage with a piece looking at John Lennon as the poster child for deferred action. She talked with lawyer Leon Wildes, who helped Lennon and Yoko Ono beat deportation in the 1970s, about how the case became precedent for many others.

Read her piece, and don’t miss the classic historic photos here.

And watch Ray’s report on the NewsHour Friday night.


  • The Obamas opened up to Barbara Walters about conversations with their daughters about the possibility that their father would lose re-election.

  • The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer looks at the friendship between South Carolina GOP Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott, who are rivals for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jim DeMint in January.

  • The Times’ Kate Zernike profiles Newark Democratic Mayor Cory Booker and wonders if he’s a better marketer than mayor.

  • Politico has 10 facts about the man who might be the next secretary of defense, former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel.

  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warns about rising milk prices should Congress keep delaying passage of the farm bill.

  • Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants the president to help pay off the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s debt.

  • The Washington Post’s Emily Heil profiles the females in the Senate and explores whether that means less gridlock in the future.

  • Republican Rep. Tom Latham led a floor tribute to Rep. Leonard Boswell, the Democrat he defeated this fall in a redistricting fueled member-vs.-member race in Iowa.

  • Rep. Hank Johnson (of “Guam could capsize” fame) apologized for using the word “midget.”

  • Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA features an infographic delving into how much money the government gives to defense contractors and where that money is going. Surprisingly, California tops Virginia on the list.


  • In her weekly column, Gwen Ifill ponders how things might be different if women were “running the rodeo.”

  • The NewsHour explores in-depth how Medicare changes could take shape in a fiscal cliff deal.

  • Judy Woodruff interviews Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations about developments in Syria and Rice’s exit from State Department consideration.

  • Miles O’Brien looks at the connection between genes and addiction.

  • The latest in our PRI series on cancer abroad focuses on infection.

  • We round up a report about the 15 countries deemed most in danger of becoming failed states within the next 18 years because of their potential for conflict and environmental ills.

  • Former foreign affairs editor Michael Mosettig pens an essay about financing wars.

  • Jeffrey Brown files a dispatch from Athens.


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