By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
POWER HOUR. While everyone is focused on what a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders and President Obama will talk about at a long-awaited White House meeting today, one sharp GOP strategist wonders if there was any real attempt at outreach before now. If this morning’s 10:30 a.m. gathering in the Roosevelt Room is really going to be anything more than a glorified photo-op, this Washington veteran asks: Shouldn't there have been some spade work done beforehand — one-on-one discussions between the principles? Politico's Glenn Thrush, however, finds that Obama has made an attempt at personal connection. “On Nov. 17, Obama quietly dispatched legislative liaison Dan Turton to hand-deliver Boehner a note celebrating his 61st birthday — and the president himself quickly followed up with a friendly telephone call, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.” http://politi.co/eP6bx7
Even so, how much can this group accomplish in their allotted one hour time frame? It’s a point that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs addressed at his briefing yesterday: “That's not to say that this is the first and only meeting. I think this is the first of many, many meetings over the course of the next several years as Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress are going to have to work together to solve some very difficult problems. … I think this is the beginning of a new relationship with leaders in the House and the Senate. I think this is the beginning of a longer-term conversation about how we get to compromises on issues that we know are important for the American people."
But on substance, it seems, the discussion is taking place via Op-Eds and press conferences instead of personal contacts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House-Speaker-To-Be John Boehner take to today's Washington Post to announce “where we and Democrats can work together,” which involves moving away from “misplaced priorities of the last two years and work together on common-sense proposals that will build a foundation for the economic rebound we all want,” they write. More from their Op-Ed: “Together, we can focus on the things Americans want us to do – not on what government wants Americans to accept. The clock may be winding down on this session of Congress, but there is still time to do the right thing. If President Obama and Democratic leaders put forward a plan during the lame-duck session to cut spending and stop the tax hikes on all Americans, they can count on a positive response from Republicans. If the president and Democratic leaders don't act before the end of the year, however, House and Senate Republicans will work to get the job done in the new Congress. But we hope it doesn't come to that.” http://wapo.st/eex7Ts
WHO’S GOING? According to the White House, expected attendees at the meeting, include the president, the vice president, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, incoming Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Dick Durbin and Senator Jon Kyl.
PAY FREEZE POLITICS. Meanwhile, President Obama's announcement yesterday of federal pay freeze was, as The Hill's Sam Youngman and Erik Wasson write, “either an olive branch to newly empowered Republicans or a Clintonesque attempt to co-opt their ideas.” Either way, it was done via bully pulpit instead of over a conference table. More from their report: “Unions and liberal groups ripped the decision, accusing the White House of siding against the middle class and pursuing bad policy and politics. Republicans pointed out that they first had suggested a pay freeze and complained Obama was not going far enough.” http://bit.ly/fLHNmM
ISSA + BIDEN. Obama's not the only one doing bipartisan duty today. This afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden meets with incoming House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The topic, according to reports, will be oversight of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe notes: “The vice president has served as the stimulus program's ‘sheriff,’ assigned by President Obama to root out allegations of waste, fraud, abuse and misuse of federal stimulus dollars. Issa, in his role as the GOP's lead House overseer, believes the Obama administration is fudging the program's job creation numbers and is concerned by efforts to promote the spending program through the use of special road signs and government-backed Web sites.” While this could be a good opportunity for the White House to nip any time-and-energy-draining investigations in the bud, it is also worth noting that this meeting was instigated by Issa, not the White House. http://wapo.st/hNdbMV
TODAY’S BOTTOM LINE: The focus shouldn't be on what gets done today, but on whether either side is willing to engage in the real work that gets done out of the camera’s glare.
TAPPER GOES CLANDESTINE. ABC’s Jake Tapper talks Wikileaks with former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann, the current president of the American Academy of Diplomacy in this week’s edition of the “Political Punch” Webcast. He also sat down with Doug Liman, director “Fair Game,” the new movie about former CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Neumann calls the cable indicating that the Secretary of State urged U.S. diplomats to compile information on top UN officials “the most trivial part of the story, quite frankly. There is an annual exercise of establishing intelligence requirements. It's a Christmas wish list for everyone in Washington and every intelligence community to dump in the list everything they'd like to know. And it goes out once a year.” Watch the “Political Punch” Webcast: http://abcn.ws/fmZw98
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Karen Travers interview Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who has been one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s most ardent critics. “My message was basically that Democrats took a historic beating at the polls a couple of weeks ago,” Matheson told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month, “and we should avoid denial about what happened.” Jake Tapper also joins the “Top Line” gang from the White House lawn to discuss Wikileaks and his Political Punch interview with former Ambassador Ron Neumann. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
WIKI WORLD. Is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange setting himself up for espionage charges? It’s possible, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told NPR “Morning Edition” host Renee Montagne today. From a report by NPR’s Mark Memmott: “The international uproar over WikiLeaks' disclosure this week of hundreds of thousands of cables and other messages sent in recent years by U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives has the Justice Department saying that somebody may be prosecuted for revealing government secrets. … And Assange, an Australian, may be his own worst enemy if he ever is brought before a U.S. court, Abrams said: ‘He has gone a long way down the road of talking himself into a possible violation of the Espionage Act.’” http://n.pr/h3j0R7
MCCAIN ON START. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos spoke with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, on “Good Morning America” today about the chances the START treaty gets passed before the end of the year. Here’s George’s report: “His Arizona colleague, Sen. Jon Kyl, says the Senate can’t – and won’t – ratify the START Treaty in this lame-duck session of Congress, but Sen. John McCain told me that there is still hope. ‘I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others,’ McCain said, adding that Democrats are addressing Kyl’s concerns in active negotiations. An Administration official echoed McCain’s confidence after the interview. http://abcn.ws/h9dxOD
RANGEL’S DAY. Rep. Charles Rangel may formally receive his censure from the House of Representatives today or tomorrow, ABC’s John R. Parkinson reports. “Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the House Committee on Standards on Official Conduct, told reporters late Monday evening that the ethics committee has tonight submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives regarding” Rangel. A senior aide from the Speaker's office had not heard the news about the resolution, but suggested if it was true that the full House of Representatives could consider the ethics committee's recommendations as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. By a vote of 9 to 1, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats earlier this month agreed with chief committee counsel R. Blake Chisam, who had recommended the penalty. It also recommended that Rangel, D-New York, be required to pay restitution on unpaid taxes.” http://abcn.ws/eLsA4q
VIDEO OF THE DAY: Retiring Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, lost his cool on the House floor, complaining bitterly about not being able to speak. Buyer called the lame duck session a "waste of time" and declared he is “so glad to be retiring” from Congress after nine terms. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/g9IlQT
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