Once it became clear that the schedules had not been properly worked out for a meeting between President Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders in the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections, the inevitable drumbeat in advance of the meeting became louder and louder.
If you expect a one-hour meeting in the Roosevelt Room to upend the tone and tenor in Washington, you are probably safe in calling yourself an eternal optimist.
The outcome of today’s 10:30 am ET meeting with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Geithner, OMB Director Jacob Lew, and the bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership is certainly unknown.
What is known is that the players are not necessarily coming to the table with the same agenda items, and that may prove tricky.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that dealing with the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of December and the ratification of the New START treaty with Russia are President Obama’s top two agenda items for the meeting.
“This is the beginning of a new relationship that we have to get — we have to make work on both sides for the American people. So I think this will be something that the President and leaders on both sides spend a lot of time on in the next couple years,” Gibbs said of the new power arrangement in Washington.
The Bush-era tax cuts are certainly high on the GOP agenda for the meeting too. However, Speaker of the House designate John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appear unwavering in their push for extension of the tax cuts for every American at every income level.
“Republicans got the message voters have been delivering for more than a year. That’s why we made a pledge to America to cut spending, rein in government, and permanently extend the current tax rates so small-business owners won’t get hit with a massive tax hike at the end of December,” write Boehner and McConnell in a Washington Post op-ed teeing up today’s meeting.
“That’s what Americans want. And that’s the message Republicans will bring to the meeting today. In other words, you’ll have a voice at that table,” they add.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also made clear that he wants to bring up the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the DREAM Act for consideration in the lame duck. Republicans have been quick to say that those issues are off topic from what the American voters said with their ballots on November 2 and should not be high priority items for the lame duck session.
One potential bright spot for President Obama came from an unlikely corner Tuesday morning. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., (who is not in the leadership and therefore will not be at the meeting) said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he hopes the Senate can ratify the New START treaty this year.
“I believe that we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others and I hope that we can do that,” McCain said.
But on the Bush-era tax cuts, which Sen. McCain voted against at that time, the president’s former opponent stuck to the party line without any apparent interest in compromising on a possible higher income level cap for those who would get their tax cuts extended than the $250,000 per year President Obama has discussed.
“What we’re doing here is trying to find some level where the populism will take over. The fact is that we don’t want to raise anybody’s taxes in a time of economic recession that we’re in. And that’s the fundamental principle that we are adhering to and we believe that’s the message that the American people sent to get some confidence into businesses large and small as to what their future will be so that they can invest and hire,” he said.
The meeting at the White House today may run longer than the hour for which it is scheduled, but when the bipartisan leaders emerge they will appear before reporters, who will be listening carefully to see if their words could have been crafted prior to the meeting, or if they seem to be genuinely reacting to a new dynamic that presented itself in the room.
WAR OF WORDS
Joe Scarborough, the former Florida GOP congressman and current host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” penned an opinion column in the Tuesday edition of POLITICO demanding Republicans “man up” and make public their worries about Sarah Palin’s influence on the party.
Scarborough swipes at the former Alaska governor’s experience, while also getting in a dig at President Obama. “What man or mouse with a fully functioning human brain and a resume as thin as Palin’s would flirt with a presidential run? It makes the political biography of Barack Obama look more like Winston Churchill’s, despite the fact that the 44th president breezed into the Oval Office as little more than a glorified state senator,” writes Scarborough.
The commentator also took aim at Palin’s remarks about former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Scarborough accuses Palin of “mocking” Reagan’s biography, “dismissing him as ‘an actor,'” when she was asked if her new reality TV series diminished her standing to be president.
Palin also recently criticized the senior Bush and his wife as “blue bloods,” after the former first lady said she hoped the former governor would “stay” in Alaska.
Scarborough writes that Palin’s dismissal of the 41st president is “more understandable after one reads her biography and realizes that, like Bush, she accomplished a great deal in her early 20s.” He then asks, sarcastically: “Who wouldn’t agree that finishing third in the Miss Alaska beauty contest is every bit as treacherous as risking your life in military combat?”
Scarborough ends with this point: “If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.”
But, he says if the party wants to win the White House, GOP leaders need to start “standing up and speaking truth to Palin.”
Keep refreshing Palin’s twitter feed and Facebook page to see if she mixes it up with Scarborough. But, more importantly, watch carefully to see whether any Republicans use the Scarborough column to go public with their own critical views of Palin.
AWAITING HIS FATE
Veteran New York Congressman Charles Rangel could face a House vote as early as Tuesday on punishment for his ethics violations.
The question now is how Rangel will be punished. The Ethics Committee recommended censure – which is the most severe action the House of Representatives can take short of expulsion, and result in Rangel being scolded by the Speaker on the House floor.
Rangel is instead asking for a reprimand, which would allow the Democratic lawmaker to be shamed in writing.
Rangel was found guilty earlier this month on 11 charges, which included the use of congressional letterhead and staff to solicit donations for a public service center to be named in his honor at City College of New York, not paying taxes on rental income from a villa in the Dominican Republic, failure to disclose $600,000 in assets and use of a rent-controlled apartment in New York City as a campaign office.
Prior to the vote, Rangel will have a chance to defend himself one last time. Then, members will vote on whether to rebuke their colleague on paper, or in front of C-SPAN cameras. If that happens, it will be the first censure since 1983.