By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
As the Senate prepares today for a final vote on the START arms reduction treaty with Russia, which looks likely to be ratified with the help of 11 Republican senators, the White House appears ready to take a bow.
ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports that the president hopes to hold a press conference later today after the START vote to talk about bipartisan successes of the lame duck. This morning Obama will celebrate another victory, signing the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” Repeal Act of 2010 into law at a ceremony at the Department of the Interior. http://abcn.ws/f3Dce5
But as the lame duck session of Congress comes to close, it’s important to remember that the road to the finish line was a bumpy one. Weeks of tense negotiations on the tax compromise deal, a loss for the White House and Democrats on the omnibus spending bill, fierce negotiation on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” START and other priorities, including the 9/11 responders bill, which is still among the unfinished business left on the Hill today.
“I think the president would admit that he spent more time reaching out to Republicans recently than in previous times,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday. “I also happen to think that Republicans understand probably more than they have in any other period also in the president’s tenure that they are soon to inherit a great responsibility for the act of governing, and I think that's kicked in a bit earlier than the formal passing of the gavel in the House.”
So will this period of “reaching out” continue in the new Congress next year? Hard to say with certainty, but take a look at what Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, had to say on Fox News radio this week about what he saw as Republicans caving to Democrats’ whims.
“When it's all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch,” Graham said. “This has been a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn't have passed in the new Congress.”
Not exactly the spirit of bipartisanship that the Obama administration might be hoping for when Congress returns in January. And it’s not just that Republicans are smarting from Democratic legislative wins, it’s that the entire complexion of Capitol Hill is going to be different.
Would, for example, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” passed in the new Congress? The bill passed 65-31 with the help of five Senators who aren’t returning in 2011, Democrats Evan Bayh (IN), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Russ Feingold, (WI) and Arlen Specter (PA) as well as Republican George Voinovich (OH).
Conservative Republicans are replacing all though Senator-elect Pat Toomey, R-PA, has said he’d vote to support the repeal. Take those four votes out, add a likely “no” vote from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who missed the vote to attend a family holiday party back home, and you are at 61-32. But, there were also three Republicans who missed the vote, retiring Sens. Jim Bunning (KY) and Judd Gregg (NH) and conservative Sen. Orin Hatch (UT).
Conservative Republicans — Rand Paul (KY) and Kelly Ayotte (NH) — are replacing Bunning and Gregg and Hatch is likely to face a challenge from his right in a 2012 GOP primary. If at least two these Republicans voted “no,” DADT would have failed.
That’s just one case study. A few weeks from now, it’s going to be the real thing.
HILL ACTION: ABC’s Matthew Jaffe tees up the votes in the Senate today: Once the START vote is out of the way — and with government funding now extended until March 4 — there will be only one high-profile issue left for lawmakers to resolve: the 9/11 health bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will move to the 9/11 measure as soon as START is resolved. Democrats would need 60 votes to do so, but while Republicans like Tom Coburn and Democrats like Chuck Schumer dig in their heels publicly, both sides privately sound optimistic about working out a deal that would ensure support on both sides & enable swift passage in the Senate.
BOTTOM LINE: With Christmas Eve just 48 hours away, there is little appetite for a long political fight that could last through the holiday, so the general consensus is that lawmakers will reach a compromise, the Senate will pass the 9/11 bill sometime this afternoon, and then send it over to the House for final passage, where it is expected to pass quickly.
REDISTRICTING ROUNDUP. “Census data released Tuesday led to a seismic shift in the allocation of Congressional seats, with Republican-leaning Sun Belt states gaining seats and Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states losing,” ABC News’ Sherisse Pham reports. “This year's census data resulted in a shift of 12 seats across 18 different states. … Texas was the big winner, picking up four new House seats and capping seven consecutive decades of gains. The state now has a total of 36 seats. Florida was second with two more seats, with the smaller Sun Belt states of Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Utah and Nevada picking up one each, and northwest Washington grabbing one as well. … The biggest losers were in the Northeast and Midwest, with New York and Ohio losing two seats each. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania each lost one.” http://abcn.ws/hTI9G3
BOTTOM LINE: House experts we talked to predict GOP gains of anywhere from three to 10 seats. But before anyone takes a victory lap, remember that redistricting is the most political thing that politicians do. The best laid plans on paper often disintegrate once they meet up with the egos and ambitions of elected officials.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, who has been pushing hard for passage of the 9/11 health bill, even urging President Obama in a recent statement to “speak up and get personally involved” on behalf of the bill. Also on “Top Line” today, Politico’s Shira Toeplitz. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
CLAPPER CONFUSED? Check out this moment from ABC World News Anchor Diane Sawyer’s interview with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan, which took place on the same day that British authorities arrested 12 men in England in connection with a bomb plot. Brennan and Napolitano knew of the arrests and said that the plot would not have threatened the United States, but Director Clapper, who briefs the president daily on the nation's security, appeared to be unfamiliar with the events in London.
“London?" Clapper said, before Brennan entered the conversation explaining the arrests. Later in the interview, Sawyer returned to the subject. "I was a little surprised you didn't know about London," Sawyer told Clapper. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't," he replied.
After the interview, Clapper's office declined to say whether he knew about the specific disrupted plot but issued a statement: "The question about this specific news development was ambiguous. The DNI's knowledge of the threat streams in Europe is profound and multi-dimensional, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate.” Story by ABC’s Bradley Blackburn and Video: http://abcn.ws/gIHvF5
1994 ALL OVER AGAIN. “As Newt Gingrich toys with the idea of a 2012 presidential run, he's opened to a worn page in his political playbook — targeting the unemployed,” ABC’s Russell Goldman reports. “At a recent speech to GOP activists in South Carolina, Gingrich [said]: ‘I'm opposed to giving people money for doing nothing,’ … painting those Americans who receive unemployment benefits as preferring a government handout to looking for a new job. Gingrich compared unemployment insurance to welfare, a system he dramatically overhauled with President Clinton in mid-1990s. According to the Los Angeles Times, Gingrich told the 250 activists that the U.S. last year spent $134 billion on unemployment compensation ‘and got nothing for it.’” http://abcn.ws/e2kvlV
HUCK-PALIN FRICTION. “Potential GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says Sarah Palin’s wrong and Michelle Obama’s right, at least when it comes to the first lady’s push to combat childhood obesity,” Politico’s Jennifer Epstein reports. “‘With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she's misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do,’ the former Arkansas governor said Tuesday on the ‘Curtis Sliwa Show.’ Palin has made clear more than once that she sees the first lady’s efforts as an overstep by the federal government.” http://politi.co/g9D6O3
THE WAY WE EAT. “The House of Representatives gave final approval on Tuesday to a long-awaited modernization of the nation’s food safety laws, voting 215 to 144 to grant the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over food production,” The New York Times’ William Neuman reports. “The bill, which President Obama has indicated he will sign, is meant to change the mission of the F.D.A., focusing it on preventing food-borne illnesses rather than reacting after an outbreak occurs. The overhaul comes after several major outbreaks and food recalls in recent years involving salmonella in eggs and peanuts, and E. coli in spinach and other leafy greens.” http://nyti.ms/ewX0IH
MONKEY BUSINESS. And now for something completely different. From ABC News’ Huma Khan: “U.S. politics can be full of monkey business, but a new campaign in Florida takes its meaning to a whole new level. The ‘mystery monkey of Tampa Bay,’ who has gained celebrity status in the Sunshine State, is now in the running for mayor of Tampa. ‘I am fed up with partisan poo-flinging," the monkey, who has yet to reveal his true self or his whereabouts to the public, said in a statement announcing his campaign. … The monkey launched his campaign this week with a sophisticated website, a Twitter account boasting 694 followers and a Facebook page with 172 fans. … Tampa's infamous monkey has run amok in the city for nearly a year, boggling officials while gaining national stardom.” http://abcn.ws/g9mhq2
@markknoller: Out of 50 members of Congress attending the DADT signing, just 2 are Republican: Sen. Susan Collins, MA and Rep. Todd Platts, PA.
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