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President Obama, Boehner to Negotiate One-on-One

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner at the White House in November. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg.

The Morning Line

Table for two, please.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have agreed to negotiate one-on-one in an effort to broker a deal to prevent the country from going over the so-called fiscal cliff at year’s end.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker report that the request to exclude Senate leaders and the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, came from Boehner:

All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement.

“This is now the speaker and the president working this through,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.

White House aides and the speaker’s staff, by mutual agreement, have largely shut down public communication about the talks to avert hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January if no deal can be reached. Both sides said on Thursday that lines of communication remained open.

The development comes after Mr. Obama and Boehner had their first direct conversation in nearly a week when the two spoke by phone on Wednesday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration planned to stay mum on the details of what was said.

“We believe it’s in the interest of achieving an agreement not to do that,” Carney told reporters Thursday.

The president, meanwhile, made a trip to Northern Virginia, where he enlisted the help of a middle-class family to help make his case for extending tax breaks for all Americans, except those with incomes exceeding $250,000 annually.

“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent,” Mr. Obama said, sitting around the Santana family’s table in their Falls Church home. “But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done that is good for families like this one’s and that is good for the American economy,” he added.

The decision by the president and the speaker places them on familiar terrain, as the two leaders attempted, and ultimately failed, to strike a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit in July of 2011. And while cutting the number of people in the room to just two may help produce an agreement, the real challenge will still be for both men to sell the plan to their respective parties.

As it has all week, the NewsHour updated the state of play on the fiscal cliff talks Thursday. Watch Judy Woodruff’s report here or below:


Senate Republicans lost their kingmaker on Thursday when South Carolina’s Jim DeMint announced he would resign in January to run the Heritage Foundation.

“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” DeMint said in a statement. “I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”

That battle of ideas had frequently put DeMint at odds with GOP leaders in recent years, especially when it came to backing Senate candidates who were not the preferred choices of the party’s establishment wing. Sometimes his picks made it to the Senate, like Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Utah’s Mike Lee. But there were others who failed in their bids and cost Republicans a shot at gaining back the majority in the chamber, such as Sharron Angle in Nevada two years ago and Richard Mourdock of Indiana in November.

When the late Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties in 2009, going from the Republicans to the Democrats, DeMint was quoted as saying that he would “rather have 30 Republicans who believe in something than 60 who don’t believe in anything.”

DeMint told the NewsHour around that time that Republicans had the right vision for America, but the party needed to communicate it better to the American people.

We can have a big tent around some core principles that are very attractive to every American. And that’s my goal, is to show that these ideas, these freedom solutions, work for everyone, they work in education, they work in health care, they work in energy, in transportation.

I think we’ve got the best message. That’s what I’m trying to pound into my Republican colleagues. That’s not a far-right idea.

As DeMint looks to exert influence from outside the halls of Congress, the attention has already shifted to who will fill his seat.

That decision falls to GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who will appoint a successor to serve until 2014, which is when the Palmetto State will hold a special election and when the state’s other GOP senator, Lindsey Graham, will also be up for re-election.

CNN’s Peter Hamby reported Thursday that freshman GOP Rep. Tim Scott, a tea party favorite, appeared to be the leading contender to succeed DeMint, in part because he is the favorite of the outgoing Republican:

DeMint has told a handful of confidantes that he would like to see Scott appointed to the seat, sources told CNN Thursday.

The senator’s official staff in Washington is pushing back hard against that suggestion, in part because DeMint can’t be seen as meddling in a process controlled by the governor.

National Review also picked through other possible candidates for DeMint’s soon-to-be-open seat.

Another name that entered the conversation Thursday: Stephen Colbert. The Comedy Central comedian and South Carolina native has jokingly flirted with political bids twice before, and his spokesperson told the Huffington Post that Colbert “looks forward to Governor Haley’s call.”


  • November’s national unemployment rate hit its lowest point since December 2008, at 7.7 percent, a number that fared better than expected in Friday morning’s monthly economic update from the Labor Department.

  • Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare spoke with Judy Woodruff on Thursday’s NewsHour about what he perceives as the perils of this month’s fiscal negotiation. He said, “It’s a mistake to address [Social Security] now. It gets caught up in a debate that it shouldn’t be part of. And we’re going to solve Social Security and Medicare in the next two weeks? Please.”

Watch the segment here or below:

  • Gwen Ifill assesses post-campaign analysis of the presidential election in this blog post.

  • Call it the $2 billion campaign. Both the Romney and Obama campaign teams raised more than $1 billion, according to the final fundraising totals from the general election cycle released late Thursday.

  • The major labor unions — AFSCME, SEIU and NEA — have bought TV ad space in Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Montana to lobby members of Congress to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They’re specifically asking Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, both Democrats, and Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg and Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi, both Republicans, for support.

  • Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA mined the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Government studies show many of the hottest jobs for the decade ahead don’t require a college degree or even a high school diploma. But they also come with lower salaries.”

  • Mary Agnes Carey and Kaiser Health News write the FAQ on how the fiscal cliff could impact health care. The NewsHour has the blog post.

  • The U.S. attorney in New Orleans has resigned. Even more interesting is the anonymous internet commenter scandal that may have unraveled his term.

  • A tea party group has collected more than 150,000 on a petition asking Republicans to vote “no” on any tax increases, and Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Paul Broun will speak about it during a press conference on Dec. 12.

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will chair the National Constitution Center, the struggling history museum at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. He inherits job from former President Bill Clinton.

  • Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk will return to the Senate on Jan. 3 after a year’s absence because of a stroke.

  • The Presidential Inaugural Committee launched on Thursday with preliminary plans for the second inauguration of Mr. Obama and Vice President Biden. The schedule includes the National Day of Service honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19; a private swearing-in ceremony for the president on Jan. 20; and the public swearing-in, parade and Inaugural balls on Jan. 21. Actress Eva Longoria will serve as one of the the event’s co-chairs, and former Obama campaign staff members, including Jim Messina, will lead parts of the ceremony.

  • Michigan likely will become the 24th right-to-work state after its legislature adopted the policy on Thursday.

  • Former President George H. W. Bush remains hospitalized in Texas as he recovers from a cough.

  • A photographer claims Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer punched a reporter who asked her about climate change.

  • Vice President Biden and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., are negotiating a new version of the Violence Against Women Act, reports the Huffington Post.

  • Here’s a lovely slide show from the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony Thursday night.

  • Elizabeth P. McIntosh, 97, finally publishes her 71-year-old first-hand account of the Pearl Harbor attack.


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