Boehner's Conservative Conundrum (The Note)

By AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter ), ELIZABETH HARTFIELD ( @lizhartfield ) and CHRIS GOOD ( @c_good )

NOTABLES:

  • ABC NEWS EXCLUSIVE: OBAMA PREDICTS GOP WILL CAVE ON TAXES . As the clock ticks toward a tax hike on all Americans in 20 days, President Obama predicted Republicans would join Democrats to extend current rates for 98 percent of earners before the end of the year. "I'm pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals," Obama said on Tuesday in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters. "I don't think they'll do that," he said of Republicans allowing tax-rate increases for families earning $250,000 a year or less. http://abcn.ws/TTerEc
  • OBAMA RECOGNIZES SYRIAN OPPOSITION GROUP. In his interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, President Obama said his administration now formally recognizes the newly formed, leading coalition of Syrian rebels who are fighting to topple Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad. "We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said. The announcement grants new legitimacy to the rebel group and marks a new phase in U.S. efforts to isolate the Assad regime. http://abcn.ws/SPylOs
  • NOTED: More of Barbara Walters' exclusive first joint, post-election interview with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama airs Friday, Dec. 14, on "20/20? at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.
  • CAN GOP RESCUE ITS 'BRAND' AMONG HISPANIC VOTERS? The Republican group Resurgent Republic and the Hispanic Leadership Network jointly surveyed Hispanic voters in the battleground states of Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico and will release the results at a briefing this morning at the National Press Club. They shared a preview of their results with The Note. "The results make clear the size of the hole Republicans have dug among Hispanic voters over the past eight years, most notably on the state of the Republican brand… Regardless of how they typically vote Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado." However, they note, "These four surveys also demonstrate the potential for Republican candidates in four very different Hispanic electorates, and the short and long-term steps that can improve Republicans' standing in the Hispanic community."
  • WOMEN OF THE SENATE TELL DIANE SAWYER THEY'D ALREADY HAVE 'FISCAL CLIFF' SOLVED. On Tuesday, ABC's "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer sat down with the historic class of female Senators in the 113 th Congress. With 20 days to go until the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, some female senators told Diane if they were in charge, Congress would already have a deal. "I think if we were in charge of the Senate and of the administration that we would have a budget deal by now," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told Diane Sawyer. "What I find is with all due deference to-deference to our male colleagues, that women's styles tend to be more collaborative," Collins said. Diane Sawyer's complete interview will air when the new Congress convenes in January. http://abcn.ws/W41UfO

THE NOTE:

The ABC/Washington Post poll is the latest survey to show President Obama with the upper hand in negotiations over the fiscal cliff ( http://abcn.ws/X8uFqK ) . Nearly twice as many Americans approve of the president's work on the issue compared with that of Speaker John Boehner. However, as Langer Research Associates' Gary Langer writes, "the rating is hardly overwhelming: More Americans approve rather than disapprove of how [Obama's] handling the cliff talks by a narrow 7-point margin, 49-42 percent. But Boehner wins approval from just 25 percent, while 49 percent disapprove; an additional 26 percent don't know enough to say."

Highlighting the deeper problem for Boehner is the fact that while Democrats are united in their approval of Obama's negotiation tactics (a nice fringe benefit of a successful re-election bid), conservative Republicans are decidedly dour.

"While about eight in 10 Democrats and liberals alike approve of how Obama is handling the talks, far fewer Republicans and conservatives, 38 and 35 percent, say the same about Boehner," Langer writes.

And getting conservatives to buy into the bargain is Boehner's big challenge. As the talks drag on, Boehner's ability to keep his members from jumping ship, or publicly criticizing the speaker's position, becomes more tenuous.

Boehner took to the House floor yesterday and asked, "Where are the spending cuts? … The longer the White House slow walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."

As the New York Times' Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman write today, Boehner's public posturing is focused as much on keeping his base happy as pushing the president. ( http://nyti.ms/Xb2cR5 )

His statement seemed directed as much at Republican lawmakers and party activists-to reassure them that he was fighting the good fight against government spending, given Republicans' likely concessions on taxes-as at the president and the broader public."

Even so, writes The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman, "[f]or now, many of the 87 GOP freshmen elected in 2010-more than 70 of whom won reelection last month and will return as sophomores in January-are giving Boehner the benefit of the doubt."

The question now, is for how long? Boehner will meet with his conference today, but ABC's John Parkinson reports that he won' t bring a deal to the meeting.

THE BUZZ:

With ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield (@LizHartfield)

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR SIGNS RIGHT-TO-WORK BILL AMID PROTESTS. On Tuesday Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a right-to-work bill limiting union power into law in his state, reports ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield. "I view this as an opportunity to stand up for Michigan's workers-to be pro-worker," Snyder said in a press conference. "I don't view this as anti-union at all … I believe this is pro-worker." Earlier in the day the GOP-controlled statehouse approved a law that would make the payment of union dues voluntary for private-sector unions and most public-sector unions (police and firefighters would be exempt.) The bill was approved by a vote of 58-51. In anticipation of the vote, thousands of protesters descended on the statehouse as early as 5 a.m. on Tuesday. Later in the day, the demonstrations moved to the Romney building-which is named after former Michigan Gov. George Romney (father of Mitt)-where Snyder has an office. http://abcn.ws/W4jUqt

NORTH KOREA FIRES LONG-RANGE ROCKET IN DEFIANT MOVE. The Washington Post's Chico Harlan reports, " North Korea on Wednesday successfully fired into orbit a long-range rocket carrying a satellite, an outside aerospace monitoring organization said, a major advance in the authoritarian nation's weapons program. According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint organization of the United States and Canada, North Korea "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit" after the first and second stages of the rocket dropped into the sea." http://wapo.st/Zdv6VV

GOV. HALEY CONSIDERS POLITICS OF APPOINTMENT. Roll Call's Abby Livingston and David Drucker report, " Haley is a rising star in national Republican circles and a tea party favorite. But at home, the first-term governor has struggled politically, fighting with Republicans in the Legislature and others in the party while enjoying lackluster support from independent voters. Haley appears safe from a primary challenge, but some polls have suggested that she could be vulnerable in the general election, despite the state's strong conservative bent. The Senate appointment could help Haley address some of these challenges, GOP operatives based in South Carolina and others with strong ties to the state said she is likely to take full advantage of the opportunity as she considers from a narrowed pool of five potential candidates- Rep. Tim Scott, Rep. Trey Gowdy, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster, former first lady Jenny Sanford and Catherine Templeton, the director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control." http://bit.ly/STNoYs

CAN BOEHNER GET THE VOTES? The New York Times' Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman report, " with negotiations quickening on Tuesday to prevent a year-end fiscal crisis, White House officials once again are confronting a vexing question: Can Speaker John A. Boehner deliver enough Republican votes for whatever deficit-reduction plan he and President Obama might decide? On Monday, the president presented a new offer and on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner answered back as he and the president conferred by telephone. That talk came two days after a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office without staff members present … The president has no choice but to rely on Mr. Boehner, who leads Republicans' only center of power." http://nyti.ms/SUMRWo

MCCONNELL WANTS SPENDING DETAILS. The Associated Press's Donna Cassatt reports: " Senate Republican Leader Mitch Connell insisted on Tuesday that President Barack Obama and Democrats spell out where they would cut government spending as part of any massive budget deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" double hit of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. … ' The president seems to think that if all he talks about are taxes, and that's all reporters write about, somehow the rest of us will magically forget that government spending is completely out of control, and that he himself has been insisting on balance,' McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor." http://bit.ly/TUAKbH

CORPORATE TAXES ON THE TABLE IN CLIFF TALKS. The Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta, Janet Hook and Carole E. Lee report, " The White House has told Republicans it would include an overhaul of the corporate-tax code as part of any deal to reduce the deficit, people familiar with the talks said, a move to court business groups as budget negotiations intensify. Corporate taxes hadn't until now been part of budget talks aimed at averting spending cuts and tax increases set for January. Much of the focus has instead been on the expiring individual income-tax rates." http://on.wsj.com/XaLfWS

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: NO DEFENSE CUTS UNTIL IRANIAN NUCLEAR THREAT ENDS. Wartime is no time for defense cuts, says Lindsey Graham. ABC's Chris Good reports: the South Carolina senator told a conservative audience on Tuesday he would oppose defense cuts in any fiscal-cliff deal because "we are at war." Without mentioning Afghanistan, Graham called out Iran, Syria and broader instability in the Middle East. "I want the Iranian nuclear threat to be resolved before [agreeing to] a hundred, a hundred fifty billion dollars beyond the $489 [billion]" in defense cuts already enacted in 2011, Graham said. http://abcn.ws/YXXz38

MICHELLE OBAMA COLLECTS TOYS FOR TOTS WITH MARINES. First lady Michelle Obama volunteered with the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign Tuesday, continuing a tradition she's made with the organization each year since entering the White House reports ABC's Matt Larotonda. Toys for Tots is a volunteer organization that collects gifts for needy children. Before joining service members in sorting the toy and clothing donations into large boxes for delivery, Obama thanked the assorted volunteers, which were overwhelmingly military, for taking time for the program during the holiday season. http://abcn.ws/VBauAe

FISCAL CLIFF SPURS POCKETBOOK WORRIES. A new Gallup poll finds that 64 percent believe there would be a negative effect on their "personal financial situation" if "the fiscal cliff tax increases and spending cuts go into effect," while 33 percent said they don't, ABC's Chris Good reports. Among key subgroups, just about everyone is worried. Concerns were higher (68 percent) among lower-income households, making less than $36,000 per year, than among Gallup's two higher-income brackets (62 percent in each). Those with children under 18 (67 percent) were more concerned than those without (63 percent). http://abcn.ws/Uy5zPM

MYSTERY COMPANY THE LARGEST CORPORATE DONOR OF 2012. USA Today's Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars report, " A company created less than two months before Election Day was the largest corporate donor of the 2012 elections and remains shrouded in mystery weeks later. The company, Specialty Group Inc., operated by Knoxville attorney William Rose, donated nearly $10.6 million to a Tea Party-affiliated super PAC in the campaign's final weeks as the group blistered candidates across the country with attack ads, new campaign reports show." http://usat.ly/XPrOrA

THE RESET: DEBT LIMIT LOOMS AS NEXT FISCAL CLIFF. The AP's Tom Raum reports, " we now know what's on the other side of that menacing year-end "fiscal cliff." Another cliff. While White House and Republican congressional leaders labor behind closed doors to cut a deal to steer clear of the first cliff - mandatory tax increases and spending cuts due to hit in early January - another treacherous economic precipice looms. It's when the government will again bump up against the congressionally-set debt ceiling." http://apne.ws/VUOLt9

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX

NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION WARNS OF "SIGNIFICANT, LAST DAMAGE" IF TAX HIKES IMPLEMENTED IN 'FISCAL CLIFF' DEAL. The National Taxpayers Union will send a letter to the Hill on Wednesday urging Congress to "carefully consider the relative merits of tax increases and spending restraint." The letter has been signed by 180 economists, including two former OMB directors, Doug Holtz-Eakin and James Miller. " Increasing taxes would likely slow or reverse our nation's fragile economic recovery and undermine long-term growth," NTU argues in the letter. "Restraining the growth of expenditures, however, would help stabilize the government's fiscal imbalance and create a more conducive environment for robust expansion." http://bit.ly/QUtvko

WHO'S TWEETING?

@ajjaffe New Yorkers really don't want Hillary Clinton to run for mayor of New York: http://bit.ly/TOVi2Q

@nytjim Michigan State Police pepper-spraying protesters of measure to weaken organized labor. via ACLU http://youtu.be/ezENQ-IVvLg

@mattklewis Did Paul Ryan's Veep run help him? http://bit.ly/XaWe2x

@jimgeraghty Our New New Tone: ' There Will Be Blood! ' ' Civil War! ' http://bit.ly/12kSJet

@BeschlossDC Before Senate run '70, Cong. GHW Bush asked LBJ for advice. LBJ told him choice betw House & Senate was betw "chicken s-t & chicken salad."

@postpolitics Jenna Bush is pregnant http://wapo.st/SQPjMn

@marcorubio Appears 1 thing holding up #fiscalcliff deal leaders want 2 see if world ends on 12/21.B/C if it does,what the point? #humor #itsajokepeople

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