The Note’s Must-Reads for Thursday, December 20, 2012

By Amanda VanAllen

Dec 20, 2012 6:30am

The Note’s Must-Reads are a round-up of today’s political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com

Compiled by ABC News’ Amanda VanAllen, Ben Waldron and Jordan Mazza

BENGHAZI
ABC News’ Dana Hughes and Martha Raddatz: “Four State Department Officials Relieved of Duties After Benghazi Report.”  Four State Department officials have been “relieved from their duties” after an internal investigation of the Benghazi consulate attack  found “systemic failures and leadership deficiencies at senior levels in securing the compound,” prior to and during the assault,  a State Department spokeswoman said.  LINK

BOEHNER’S PLAN B
The Hills’ Russell Berman: “Boehner scrambles for votes on ‘Plan B’” Fiscal-cliff talks deteriorated into dueling press conferences on Wednesday as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) scrambled for enough Republican votes to pass his backup tax plan over a presidential veto threat. House Republican officials voiced confidence over the bill’s chances, but more than a dozen rank-and-file members criticized the measure’s lack of spending cuts. Boehner’s proposal would prevent much of the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes from going forward in January, but would allow tax rates on income over $1 million to increase. LINK

The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Mascaro, Christi Parsons and Michael A. Memoli: “Boehner seeks support for tax increase on the wealthiest” As President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner took turns blaming each other for the sudden lull in the budget talks, the action continued off-camera Wednesday as the Ohio Republican focused on building support from his conservative majority to increase tax rates on the wealthy. Boehner faces a potentially insurmountable challenge: Even though Republican leaders are all but resigned that the top tax rates will have to rise in the new year, the party’s rank-and-file House members are not. LINK

The Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan: “Boehner to hold vote on ‘Plan B’ to skirt ‘fiscal cliff’” House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday dared President Obama to veto the Republican “Plan B” offer to avoid the “fiscal cliff” — higher tax rates on those making more than $1 million but tax cuts for everyone else — even as the president pleaded for cooperation rather than confrontation, saying he has already moved halfway. The high-stakes game of chicken between the country’s top Republican and top Democrat comes with less than two weeks to go before the fiscal cliff, a quick succession of across-the-board tax increases and $110 billion in spending cuts that strike at the beginning of the new year. LINK

FISCAL CLIFF
USA Today’s Aamer Madhani: “‘Fiscal cliff’ talks may keep Obama in town for Christmas.”  With President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner still far apart on a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the two might find themselves spending precious time together around the holidays. Obama is scheduled to take off for his family’s annual holiday vacation to Hawaii on Friday, but aides on Wednesday told reporters that they would be surprised if it works out that way for the president, as fiscal cliff talks have gridlocked.  LINK

GUN CONTROL
The New York Daily News’ Jonathan Lemire: “President Obama appoints Vice President Biden to lead gun violence task force” President Obama on Wednesday launched a new drive to combat gun violence, appointing Vice President Biden to come up with a comprehensive plan that can be enacted “without delay.” Biden will lead a task force that will seek the best ideas from across the government to stop the kind of gun massacres that killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut grade school last week, Obama said. LINK

The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear: “Obama Vows Fast Action in New Push for Gun Control” President Obama declared on Wednesday that he would make gun control a “central issue” as he opens his second term, promising to submit broad new firearm proposals to Congress no later than January and to employ the full power of his office to overcome deep-seated political resistance. Leading House Republicans responded to the president’s pledge in the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre by restating their firm opposition to new limits on guns or ammunition, setting up the possibility of a bitter legislative battle and a philosophical clash over the Second Amendment soon after Mr. Obama’s inauguration. LINK

NRA IN CRISIS
The Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger: “Even before Newtown tragedy, NRA was losing Democratic support” Months before the massacre in Newtown, Conn., put the National Rifle Association on the defensive, the powerful gun rights group faced an unexpected problem. One of its most loyal Democratic friends in Congress was leading a rebellion against an NRA effort to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, a cause viewed by Democrats as a political sideshow that had nothing to do with gun rights. LINK

Politico’s Anna Palmer: “NRA Shifts to Crisis Mode” The National Rifle Association is coming out of lock down — a dramatic shift into crisis PR mode in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown that shows no sign of fading from the headlines soon. The powerful lobby broke its silence Tuesday night, extending condolences to victims and their loved ones, announcing an unusual national press briefing to be held Friday and promising to “offer meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again.” LINK 

Politico’s Kevin Robillard: “Joe Manchin: ‘I’m so proud of the NRA’”.  West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who suggested earlier in the week that the time had come for some gun control restrictions, said on Wednesday that he’s “not supporting a ban on anything” and he repeatedly defended and praised the NRA.  LINK

OTHER
Boston Globe’s Mark Feeney:  Robert Bork, 85; his Supreme Court nomination led to bitter battle.”  The fight over Mr. Bork’s confirmation took on a significance that extended well beyond politics and law. It became a flashpoint in the culture wars between post-’60s liberalism and a resurgent conservatism. To the right, the rejection of Mr. Bork symbolized the triumph of political correctness. To the left, his nomination represented an attempt to impose a reactionary political agenda on the courts. Liberal groups mounted extensive advertising campaigns attacking Mr. Bork.  LINK

Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns:  “2013 races could reveal Newtown’s lessons.”  The marquee 2013 governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey are about to become an early test of a suddenly urgent and passionate national dialogue on gun control, as candidates on both sides are pressed on whether more federal action is necessary to curb access to assault weapons like the one used in the Sandy Hook school massacre.  LINK

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