By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Even as they stood by over the last month and watched five other candidates jump in the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee, the staunchest backers of current chair, Michael Steele, insisted that reports of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. On Monday night, they were partially vindicated.
Steele’s announcement that he was seeking a second term, despite the fact that he had “stumbled along the way” — his own words — during his tumultuous two-year term as chairman, took many inside and outside the GOP by surprise.
Of course, when the 168 members of the RNC vote for chairman next month, Steele could still go down in flames. The vote is a notoriously unpredictable process, and as one long-time RNC insider put it, only half-jokingly, the 168 members will head into the January vote having offered 336 pledges of support.
While other candidates may bring their own baggage, it’s already clear that Steele is going to have to spend most of his time over the next month defending his record as chairman. In an interview last night on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News show, Steele took pains to defend the fact that the RNC has far less money in the bank now than it did when he took the reins of leadership in 2009. (The Committee is ending the year with millions of dollars in unpaid bills.) http://abcn.ws/heh2ji
“We spent a lot of money,” in the last election cycle, he told Van Susteren. “You can’t look at it in terms of where you begin and where you end. We’re talking two different periods.”
If those questions seemed to throw Steele off his game somewhat, they are child’s play compared to the kinds of critiques he is about to receive (and already has) from members of the committee and rival candidates.
Already one of those candidates, Maria Cino, a veteran of the Bush administration who ran the 2008 Republican National Convention, lashed out last night at the party’s “massive debt, outdated technology, diminished donor support, and a non-existent voter registration program,” saying that the RNC needs a leader who can “raise and responsibly manage the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to win in 2012.”
Others in the running include Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan GOP; Ann Wagner, former head of the Missouri Republican Party; Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party and the RNC’s former general counsel; and Gentry Collins, the RNC’s former political director.
BOTTOM LINE: Steele still has a path to victory — supporters say he still starts out with a strong base of support in no small party due to the sweeping midterm election victories for the GOP. But he’s going to have to dodge and weave around committee members who are already talking about forming alliances to deny him the majority needed to win. And if last night’s conference call with members of RNC was any indication, Steele may have a few tricks up his sleeve. “My style is a little bit different than most conventional Republican Party chairmen,” Steele said on Fox News. “My style is more grassroots oriented. I’m much more of a street guy.” http://abcn.ws/eZMDMa
TAX CUTS: IS THE CONSERVATIVE DAM BREAKING? Likely 2012 White House candidate Mitt Romney joined a growing number of conservatives, including Tea Party favorites Sen. Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh in criticizing the tax reform deal in a USA Today op-ed titled, "Why tax cut is a bad deal." Romney argues that because the tax cuts are only temporary "it will fail to deliver its full potential for creating lasting growth" And, writes Romney, "it will also add to the deficit" And, while " a decent and humane society must have a strong safety net for the unemployed," he notes, “the indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs, especially when the benefits extend across years.” http://usat.ly/gHE1TM
Meanwhile, Politico’s Jake Sherman reports this morning that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is also wary of the tax deal, calling it “an incomplete effort that fails to create a permanent tax structure giving businesses the kind of long-term predictability needed to support investment, economic growth and job creation,” but he has not yet committed to voting against it. Reports Sherman: “The Californian is only the most recent Republican to go public with gripes about the legislation. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) doesn't like the cost of extending unemployment insurance without offsets, and the cut in payroll taxes. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the bill is "larded up" with spending "beyond the point of being reasonable" … Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) is also a 'no.' Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the outgoing House Republican Conference chair and darling of tea partiers, said he's "not decided but not impressed." And incoming Republican Study Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio indicated he's holding his powder dry until he sees what hits the House floor.” BOTTOM LINE: “Republican leadership is not particularly concerned, according to aides, and thinks that the bill will pass with relatively widespread support.” http://politi.co/hPJ6iQ
NOTED: Responding to the complaints of some GOP conservatives on the tax compromise, one GOP aide told the Note: “No one is totally happy with this compromise, but with Nancy Pelosi still holding the Speaker’s gavel, it is our only chance to stop the tax hike scheduled for January 1. And, make no mistake, if those tax hikes hit — even temporarily — it will hurt our economy and cost jobs.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's opposes the tax deal. He has expressed support for it.
REMEMBERING HOLBROOKE. ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that the last words of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died last night at the age of 69 in Washington, DC hospital, were: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan." According to Tapper: “The source says the context was important – the words came at the end of a lengthy exchange with his surgeon. ‘But it does show how relentless he could be in support of the policy that he helped create,’ the source says. ‘He always made sure he had the last word.’”
From the ABC’s News obituary: “Holbrooke joined the Foreign Service in 1962. Vietnam loomed large in his early career. He served a tour there in the mid-1960s, including time in the Mekong Delta for USAID. In 1966, he began working on Vietnam issues in the White House under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He later wrote a portion of the Pentagon Papers – the secret internal history of the Vietnam War that was leaked to and published by the New York Times. … In the mid-1990s, he served as assistant secretary of state for Europe, where he brokered peace in the Balkans, crafting the Dayton Peace Accords that ended years of brutal fighting in Bosnia.” http://abcn.ws/hfgUI4
NOTED: President Obama plans to meet with his national security team for his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room. On Thursday the president plans to make a statement about the results of a one-year review of the Afghanistan war strategy.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Amy Walter and Rick Klein talk to Matt Kibbe President and CEO of FreedomWorks, the conservative group with Tea Party ties,about Virginia federal judge Henry Hudson’s ruling yesterday that the individual mandate requiring all Americans to purchase insurance in the health care reform law was unconstitutional. Also on the program, Reid Wilson of National Journal. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
POLITICAL PUNCH: This week on “Political Punch” ABC’s Jake Tapper took the tax debate in Washington head-on, heading to Capitol Hill to speak with Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva about the current compromise. Grijalva has been at the outspoken forefront criticizing President Obama’s plan, claiming that the plan puts Democrats in a difficult position especially in light of the damage sustained in the recent midterm elections. “You did feel frustration, certain amount of anger, and as one of my colleagues put so well, disrespect,” Grijalva said of last week’s meeting between House Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden. Tapper also sat down for coffee with Steven Weisman author of the fascinating book “The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln-Teddy Roosevelt-Wilson How The Income Tax Transformed America.” http://abcn.ws/f4adX1
HEALTH CARE FIGHT JUST BEGINNING. “By contradicting two prior opinions, Monday’s court ruling in Virginia against the Obama health care law highlighted both the novelty of the constitutional issues and the difficulty of forging consensus among judges who bring differences in experience, philosophy and partisan background to the bench,” The New York Times’ Kevin Sack reports. “Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to resolve the conflict, and many court watchers already expect a characteristically close decision. But what is now clear is that the challenges from dozens of states to the law’s constitutionality can no longer be dismissed as frivolous, as they were earlier this year by some scholars and Democratic partisans.” http://nyti.ms/eHGh4z
MILLER: SEE YOU IN COURT (AGAIN). “It’s been more than a month since the mid-term election, but Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller isn’t giving up the fight against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski,” reports ABC News’ Huma Khan. “The Tea Party backed candidate [on Monday] filed an appeal in the Alaska Supreme Court, three days after a lower court ruled against him and declared that write-in ballots that showed voter intent for Murkowski can be counted, even if they were misspelled. Miller has argued that the elections division bent state law by allowing such ballots to be counted.” “The fact that the legislature stated that there should be ‘no exceptions’ to the ballot counting method is what, in our view, should govern this matter. Under the current ruling, there are now over 8,000 exceptions, a result everyone who favors the rule of law should question,’” Miller said in a statement. http://abcn.ws/fPj2mT
WIKI REGRET? “More than two-thirds of Americans say WikiLeaks has harmed the public interest by releasing classified U.S diplomatic documents, a sharp negative turn in views of the website's actions – and nearly six in 10 say its founder, Julian Assange, should face criminal charges as a result,” Gary Langer, polling analyst for ABC News writes today. “On a day Assange is schedule to appear in a London courtroom on unrelated charges, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated he’s gone a document dump too far, alienating many Americans who held a more benign view of last summer’s WikiLeaks release of U.S. military field reports from Afghanistan.” http://abcn.ws/hJgA9L
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