By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
SUMMITEERS. President Obama returns from Thanksgiving break a little bit worse for wear, but the knocks he took on the basketball court over the holiday may just be a prelude to the political elbows Republicans plan to throw in his direction this week. After an initial delay, the president is scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders on Tuesday, including House-Speaker-In-Waiting John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. There’s a lot to talk about – both sides are looking for an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts and Republicans are keen on talking about cutting spending. But it’s unlikely that any sort of tangible result will come out of this meeting. Instead, the real question is whether this sort of bipartisan dialogue will become an ongoing and regular activity or if it is a one-and-done kind of deal? Moreover, on taxes, Obama's got as much — or more — trouble trying to get his own party on the same page as he does trying to find common ground with the GOP. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is a case-in-point.
McCaskill indicated in an interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" that she was willing to bend on taxes where other Democrats are not. “So let me just make sure, real quickly, I understand,” Wallace asked, “What you're saying is that you would back off the idea of making the cutoff point $250,000. You say extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone who's making less than a million dollars a year?” McCaskill’s response: “That's what I think is the right approach. That's the approach I'm going to be working for.” http://fxn.ws/gTiqGZ
TAKING ON TAXES. Whether or not to extend the tax cuts, for how long and for whom, is almost sure to be the thorniest issue Republicans and Democrats will face in the coming weeks. ABC’s Rick Klein surveys the lay of the land: “Top House Democrats continue to insist that the tax cuts for upper-income earners be allowed to expire. Republicans and some moderate Democrats want all the tax cuts extended; Obama has vowed repeatedly to allow them to lapse for couples making more than $250,000 a year. That's an obvious area of compromise for the White House, with temporary extensions of perhaps two or three years being floated as possible middle ground. That would be a chance for the White House to put some policy flesh on promises of working across party lines. But it would also spark anger among both liberal Democrats and some deficit hawks, who view the tax cuts for the wealthy as unnecessary and ill-advised in a time of fiscal duress. At the very least, Democrats in Congress will insist on separate votes for tax cuts affecting the middle class and those primarily benefiting the wealthy.” http://abcn.ws/fxBmHQ
LAME DUCK. Also on the agenda as Congress returns for one final push before the end of the year: the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Pentagon is set to release a report this week detailing the effects that ending DADT would have. Administration officials also need to work with Congress if they want to pass the START treaty, an arms control agreement with Russia. And even more hurdles await lawmakers. From the AP: “Congress also has a Dec. 3 deadline to pass a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate hasn't passed a single spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1. Democrats are working on a catchall $1.1 trillion to fund the government's day-to-day operations. Republicans, fresh off their election victory, are unlikely to go along. … One idea is to fund the government at current levels through February, when the next Congress and its influx of anti-spending conservatives, will deal with the matter.” http://yhoo.it/feI2kY
WIKI FALLOUT. The release of a trove of sensitive diplomatic cables by the Website, Wikileaks, and news organizations put the White House, the State Department and other government offices on the defensive on Sunday. ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Bradley Blackburn and Dean Schabner round up some of the most interesting revelations: “Some of the most fascinating documents are about Iran, depicting Arab governments practically begging the United States to prevent the Iranian government from getting nuclear weapons. ‘That program must be stopped,’ Bahrain's King tells Gen. David Petraeus in November 2009 according to one of the documents. "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.’ The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates says ‘Ahmadinejad is Hitler’ and tells a top State Department official ‘the threat from al-Qa'ida would be minor if Iran has nukes, according to another. … In another meeting with Petraeus, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. describes King Abdullah urging the U.S. to attack Iran and saying, the ‘use of military pressure against Iran should not be ruled out,’ another document says. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates is quoted telling France's defense minister in February that an attack on Iran ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.’” http://abcn.ws/h8Wl6P
NOTED: From the official White House response: “By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world. To be clear — such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. … We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”
More on the post-Wiki White House damage-control effort from ABC’s Jake Tapper: http://abcn.ws/g5mCqq
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Amy Walter and Jonathan Karl interview former Agriculture Secretary and former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Dan Glickman. The New York Times reports that retiring Sen. Chris Dodd and former outgaining New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson may both be on the short-list for Glickman’s MPAA job. Also on the program, Time magazine’s Jay Newton-Small. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
JUNK YARD. So what happened to all that talk about huge lines in airport security due to the new body scanners and enhanced pat downs? The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe has the TSA’s take: “Thanksgiving holiday travel didn't go well on the roads (what is it about New Jersey's highways, anyway?), but the Transportation Security Administration insists weeks of intense scrutiny and criticism led to few problems and delays at the nation's airports. ‘Everything went smoothly overall,’ TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said in an e-mail Sunday evening. ‘Wait times at more than 450 airports nationwide were consistent with past holiday travel periods with many airports experiencing minimal lines.’ TSA plans to release final details later today, but if statistics from last Wednesday are any indication, things should have gone well over the weekend.” http://wapo.st/e0YiHC
UNDECIDEDS. A hand recount of ballots in Minnesota’s governor’s race begins today, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. From the report: “Election workers across the state will open the boxes holding ballots and sort them according to candidates as observers from both sides keep watch. Disputed ballots will be set aside for counting later. Local election officials must finish the recount by Dec. 7. The Canvassing Board convenes the next day and is expected to certify a winner by Dec. 14. … Although the 2008 U.S. Senate recount took many months, a protracted battle seems unlikely this time around as Mark Dayton's (D) lead over Tom Emmer (R) is nearly 9,000 votes and Minnesota altered some of its election rules to make it more difficult for either side to challenge ballots.” http://bit.ly/fqbcy0
In case you missed it, check out Barbara Walters’ full Thanksgiving interview with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama: http://abcn.ws/hFieue
@clairecmc: Just ran into Jim Talent at Lambert…Asked him if it was gonna be a rematch. He said he "was working through it"
THE NEWEST SENATOR. Vice President Joe Biden swears in Sen-elect Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, today at 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol. Kirk is replacing Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the seat by ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. As Politico’s Scott Wong notes, Kirk’s arrival “will narrow Democrats’ majority in the Senate to 58-42, meaning they’ll now need at least two Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold to move forward on legislation.” http://politi.co/giaoxo
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