TAPPER: Joining me now is George Will, ABC News political director Amy Walter, from the National Journal, Major Garrett, and Democratic consultant Donna Brazile. Thanks, one and all, for being here.
We'll start with the new Congress that are come to town this week. George, what will they face? What problem will they face that they are not expecting?
WILL: I don't know whether they're expecting it or not, but they're not ready for state bankruptcies, because there is no legal provision in American law for a state to go bankrupt.
We've already seen the administration say Chrysler is too big to fail, General Motors is too big to fail, various banks are too big to fail. Wait until California comes knocking, when, what, the third-, eighth-largest economy in the world? They're going to be unable to pay their debts. Illinois, California, New York, and other states are going to find that the bond market steps in, lenders refuse. Then what happens?
TAPPER: Amy, this will be a challenge for the Republican Congress, as well as the debt ceiling. You heard Austan Goolsbee's very -- very tough talk about the debt ceiling. What are the challenges for incoming House Speaker John Boehner when it comes to controlling his caucus? There are going to be a lot of people who don't want to vote to bail out the states or don't want to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
WALTER: No, that's exactly right. I mean, it's a real balancing act that he has right now, which is keeping that Tea Party caucus. There's a lot of new members coming in who ran exactly on that message. And actually showing that the Republicans are a party that can govern and can get things done.
I mean, that was really the message of these last three elections, has been about competency, getting to Washington, doing something rather than this infighting.
Now, I think Boehner has done a very good job, at least initially, in making sure that the folks aren't outside the tent, they're inside the tent. He put freshmen on leadership positions so that the Tea Party folks can sort of have a voice in the leadership.
He's going to have the -- the folks read the Constitution on the very first day of Congress. And on any bill that you put in has to have a constitutional sort of root to it.
But, you know, will that be enough? And how quickly can they pivot from the sort of symbolic things to showing that we're going to be able to -- to work with a party and work with a president in getting people what you talked about all morning, which is jobs?
TAPPER: Now, Major, you have a piece in National Journal talking about what this new Republican House will mean specifically for President Obama, for the White House. What will it mean?
GARRETT: Confrontation across the board. Confrontation on health care. I predict before the president delivers a State of the Union address, House Republicans will move through the floor and onto the Senate a direct repeal bill of the universal health care bill passed under President Obama's watch.
They will also challenge him on whatever the EPA intends to do starting this week to limit greenhouse gas emissions. They will try to repeal major provisions of the financial regulatory reform act. They will try to cut spending much beneath the levels the president is comfortable with. Even on the FCC's most recent announcement on net neutrality, they will try to block those regulations.
Whether it's legislation or regulatory action by this administration, there will be pitch battle between the House Republicans and the Obama White House.
WILL: Well, Darrell Issa, someone you've never heard of, but people are going to hear a lot of this year, has the chief investigating subcommittee. He has seven subcommittees. He has told them he wants his seven subcommittees to have two hearings a week for 40 weeks. Seven times two times 40 is 560 hearings.
This is because the Republicans believe that such is the contempt for the electorate and now contempt (ph) for the elections that just passed, as demonstrated in the -- in the lame-duck session, that the Obama administration will try and do everything it can by regulation rather than legislation.
You mentioned the net neutrality, the taking more public lands under new classification by the Interior Department, the EPA proceeding with carbon emissions limits. All of these are challenging Congress on the question of, who rules?
TAPPER: Donna, the -- the president will have an opportunity in a very high-profile way to define how he sees the next two years, even while this is going on by House Republicans, when he gives his State of the Union address. What are you looking for the president to say later this month when he gives that address?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, Jake, I'm surprised that George Clooney is not here, but you're a good substitute, and I just wanted to tell you that.
TAPPER: I'm woefully inadequate, and I'm aware of that.
BRAZILE: Well, you're not bad on the eye this early in the new year.
TAPPER: Thank you. I...
BRAZILE: Look, the Republicans won a chance, not a mandate. The Tea Party regulars will hold all of the cards, and the Democrats understand that. They understand that the Tea Party will make demands on the Republican leadership in the House that they will not be able to fulfill. The Republican leadership will be unable to -- to make a deal with the Democrats, who still control the Senate, and President Obama, who controls the White House.
They will look uncompromising. And I think the president will be able to redefine the framework of what he's trying to achieve, which is economic growth, so that the jobs will come back. That will help him in 2012, but more importantly it will help the American people in 2011.
TAPPER: Is that possible? Do you think that might happen?
GARRETT: I don't think it's very likely, for a couple of reasons. It's not going to be just Darrell Issa. Every committee in charge of major policy will conduct oversight, so you'll see health care attacked in the Ways and Means Committee, Energy and Commerce. All these committees will pick apart parts of legislation they disagree with to establish what Republicans believe they failed to do in 1995 when they confronted then-President Clinton, a predicate for action.
Republicans understand, because Democrats control the Senate and the president still wields the veto pen, what they have to do is essentially create a two-year argument to replace President Obama, using legislative vehicles, oversight hearings, and a body of work that says, "These policies don't work for America. They're taking us in the wrong direction." And whomever the Republican nominee is in 2012 will inherit that record, that predicate, and take it into the general election.
WALTER: Right. But that's a -- which is -- which is a very good -- if it works...
GARRETT: If it works.
WALTER: ... that can work very well. But the problem is that congressional job approval is so much lower than that of the president, and the appetite for the American public for more of this kind of stuff is, you know -- they -- sort of the infighting and the partisanship is this much, right?
So if Republicans do overreach, if they look like they're spending much more time concerned about picking away through these -- through these hearings, through regulatory reform on -- on pieces of legislation that the public is not as engaged in, then that's the problem.
GARRETT: But the linchpin will be jobs.
WALTER: Yes, exactly.
GARRETT: And Republicans will explain and defend all of these actions based on one framing issue: This is about jobs. And they'll bring Republican governors in, many Republican governors who won in the midterm elections, to say, what -- what is this law, health care? What is EPA regulations? What is net neutrality? What are all these things having an effect in your state on jobs? And if they get a negative reaction, say then we need action, here's the Republican course. It's all going to be framed around jobs.
WILL: I disagree with Amy on the message of the election. I don't think it was, "Go to Washington and work together to get things done." It was go to Washington and stop it, put sand in the gears.
To which end, another person people have not heard of that they're about to hear of is Senator Tom Udall, a freshman from New Mexico, who will lead the attempt to change the Senate rules to make a filibuster less effective to make the Senate work quicker. Now, those of us who believe that quickness in government is not a good thing object to that, but it will be the first big fight of this Congress...
TAPPER: Explain that a little bit more, because there are obviously in op-ed pages across the country -- we saw today and yesterday -- attempts to argue that -- that filibuster needs a reform, that it shouldn't be a 60-vote benchmark every time senators want to do something.
WILL: It used to be 67. They lowered it to 60. And theoretically, making it easier to end debate, they made filibusters much more common for a lot of different reasons.
The argument is this. The House, all 435 members of the House are elected every year. The Senate, only a third are. The House is not a continuing body. The Senate has always said we're a continuing body, and therefore our rules continue from one to the other.
And this is the kicker. In order to change the rule on filibustering, you have to get 67 votes or 60 votes, because you can filibuster an attempt to change the rules on filibustering.
BRAZILE: And that will never happen.
GARRETT: It means it's not going to happen.
BRAZILE: But I -- look, I want to support what Amy is saying. I think the voters did send a clear message that they want Washington to work, they want politicians to focus on commonsense solutions so that jobs and -- and job creation could be, you know, the hallmark of what happens here in Washington, D.C., and not all of this partisan infighting.
But it really is up to the president. I think the president is going to have to lead in the same way that he -- he helped to lead the Congress in the lame-duck session. If he shows that he has a plan for -- for creating jobs, he has a plan for handling the deficit, he has a plan for economic growth for the country, I think the president will be able to bypass all of this chatter now that will take place within the Republican caucus.
WALTER: Well, and look at where the president is now compared to where Ronald Reagan was at this point or where Bill Clinton was at this point. He's at 47 percent job approval rating now in the latest Gallup poll. At this point, Bill Clinton was -- in his presidency, Bill Clinton was at 40 percent, Ronald Reagan was at 43 percent.
So, you know, if you're challenging -- if you're Republicans, you're going up against this president, he's certainly weakened. There's no doubt he got a shellacking. But you do have been to wary that, again, his job approval is that much higher than yours, and he has a bully pulpit.
TAPPER: Speaking of -- of the tension between Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party Republicans coming in, I want to read you this quote from an interview Boehner gave to the New Yorker magazine. He was referring to the vote to raise the ceiling on the debt limit, which is currently $14.3 trillion.
Boehner says, "This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment for the new Republican majority. You can underline adult. And for people who've never been in politics, it's going to be one of those growing moments. It's going to be difficult. I'm certainly well aware of that. But we'll have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we didn't do it."
Speaker Boehner suggesting that if you do not vote to raise the debt ceiling, you are not being an adult. George?
WILL: I know of no other developed nation that has a debt ceiling. This is a purely recurring symbolic vote to make people feel good by voting against it. The trouble is, it's suicidal if you should happen to miscalculate and have all kinds of people voting against it as a symbolic vote and turn out to be a majority, because if the United States defaults on its sovereign debt, the markets -- well, it will be stimulating.
TAPPER: Well, you heard -- and you heard Austan Goolsbee earlier today talk about -- the word "insanity" was what he used to describe it.
GARRETT: Let me give a sense of the anxiety that John Boehner, the Republican leadership in the House feels about this. At orientation conferences with incoming house Republicans, both at Harvard and at Heritage Foundation, this topic came up again and again and again. No matter what the policy conversation was, they wanted to know, why do we have to increase the debt ceiling? What are the economic consequences? There was deep-seated, A, curiosity and skepticism about the need to do this.
So internally House Republicans are going to have to sit down and -- and conduct what will amount to speed education courses on this matter.
Now, two other significant things. This will be a clean vote, a visible vote that will be separate from everything else. You can't tuck it into another legislative maneuver, as Democrats did under the Gephardt rule.
Secondly, what you will also see is the House Republican Appropriations Committee will move spending cuts through alongside these, so those who have to vote for the debt ceiling will say, "I've raided the debt ceiling, but I've also voted to cut spending." You'll see that happen much more rapidly because of the pressure applied politically on this debt ceiling vote.
TAPPER: Amy, last word on the debt ceiling?
WALTER: No, I think that Major is right. This is going to be a very interesting test, sort of a game of chicken. And I think there are a lot of Republicans out there right now hoping that they can take a symbolic vote because somebody else is going to be the adult and do that.
And you may see it based on when you're up for re-election -- the House obviously every two years, but in the Senate, you know, who is most worried about a Tea Party challenge, maybe the folks that can take a pass on that. TAPPER: A lot of Americans out there are still struggling with the snowdrifts outside their -- their -- their front door. And I want to play for you a clip from World News Tonight in 1996 that gets at the politics of snow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNINGS: This is one of those days where the only person who wants to be out in front of the snowplow is the local politician, who will be crucified if he fails to deal with the snow emergency.
GIULIANI: If you don't handle it correct, people get angry at you, and they have a right to. That's what they elected us to do.
DONVAN (voice-over): The lesson for the blizzard of '96, get out, like New York's Giuliani, share the credit, like Boston's Menino, and if there's a TV camera nearby, get behind the wheel of a snowplow, like New Jersey's Governor Whitman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A piece from ABC News' John Donvan. I have to say, there are some lessons here that apparently were not learned by the current mayor of New York City, unlike Mr. Giuliani, and the current governor of New Jersey, unlike Governor Whitman.
You know a lot, Donna, about local politics. How big a deal is it when Christie is off in Florida during this snowstorm or when Bloomberg is talking about how he didn't dig anything, but he's been reading e-mails?
BRAZILE: Well, the ghost of John Lindsay must have appeared back in New York. Back in 1969, when John Lindsay, of course, was mayor and, you know, sort of dismissed the snowfall. And, of course, the voters didn't respond favorably to his dismissal.
Look, the key is, is that when you see this -- this -- this thing coming, when Mother Nature decides to turn her eye on your city or your state, be present, be available, be on the scene. And I think Cory Booker really set the best example. He was not only there, but you...
TAPPER: The mayor -- the mayor of Newark.
BRAZILE: ... but he was actually receiving tweets about side streets that had not been cleaned. And he received one vulgar e-mail, and he showed up, and then he retweeted. He said, "Wow, you should be ashamed of yourself. I arrived on your street, and your mom and sister was outside digging. Where were you?" I mean, this is a guy who showed up.
GARRETT: That's responsive politics.
BRAZILE: That's great politics.
TAPPER: But in New Jersey in general, Major, Chris Christie, the governor there, he campaigned as a can-do problem-solver.
TAPPER: And does this take some of the glossy off of his sheen?
GARRETT: Well, I think what it does, for the first time in New Jersey for Democrats, is give them traction, which is surprising in a snowstorm. They have a way by which to frame Chris Christie in ways they haven't before, as someone who was unresponsive, did not solve a problem, and, more importantly, appears to be indifferent to the actual suffering of New Jersey constituents. That will give them a toehold. They haven't been able to get a punch in on Governor Christie until this moment. Whether it manifests itself into some larger cataclysm for him and his poll numbers, we'll see, but it's the first time Democrats have had him on the run.
TAPPER: And, Amy, Mayor Bloomberg, the impact on him, what do you think? People are talking about him as a potential presidential candidate.
WALTER: Right. I think it's actually a good idea that he didn't get into a snowplow. I mean, the thought -- this is a Dukakis-on-a-tank moment, the idea of Mayor Bloomberg pushing a snowplow.
But, look, I think, you know, what has made Bloomberg successful is not just that people in New York liked him and thought he was competent, and his -- sort of a national profile of being a good, competent major. I don't think that the frustration that people are feeling in New York is going to translate nationally.
So I think, as soon as the snow melts, the story sort of melts away for him. He's not running for re-election.
But I do think it's interesting, going back to Chris Christie and even Ed Rendell for a moment, both of them sort of took this approach, which we're seeing a lot from politicians, which is, "You guys, suck it up and stop being babies. It snows." I think Christie said that. He goes, "Hey, it's the Northeast. It snows."
GARRETT: The world didn't come to an end.
WALTER: The world hasn't come to an end. Nothing is going to change. Just we'll deal with it. And if anything was wrong, I would have -- I couldn't have gotten back here anyway. I'm trapped in Florida.
WILL: There is one national resonance from this, however. In New York City, the issue is tangled up with the question, and it's an open question, whether the public employees union to make a job action point sabotaged street collection. I believe -- and this is entirely tangled up with the state bankruptcy -- that the issue of public employees and their dominance of blue states is going to be the biggest issue in this country for the next several years.
BRAZILE: No, they're the scapegoat, George. I mean, when you start cutting state budgets and city budgets, and you start cutting snowplows, and you start cutting the amount of salt that you have stored, that has a real impact on people's lives.
And, you know, the one thing -- in terms of Brooklyn and some of the -- you know, the other boroughs -- they didn't get snowplowed for two, three days, and so they were upset when Mayor Bloomberg went out and said, "Hey, everything is fine." And they're like, we have kids who are -- who need hospital treatment, but they can't -- the ambulance cannot get there.
George, I know that's the new baby on -- on the wish list, to cut all of these budgets, but when they start cutting these state budgets, people are going to feel it.
TAPPER: I'd like to briefly -- because we're running out of time -- switch to the presidential field for 2012, because believe it or not, four years ago this month, some Democratic presidential candidates had already declared their candidacies for the 2008 nomination. And, in fact, we were only days away from Hillary Clinton and a young senator named Barack Obama declaring their candidacies.
I want to get your guys' views on the Republican contenders. Here are some possible nominees: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and John Thune. Very few of them household names, except for perhaps Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and -- and Mitt Romney.
Amy, the Iowa caucus is supposed to start in just over one year. None of these guys have declared. What's wrong with them?
WALTER: That's right. Come on. Don't they know that we're bored right now? And that's their point, which is, there is sort of a collective sense among Republicans that I talk to that 2008 started way too early. We don't want to start it this early, and we're not going to let people like you and these guys around, these news people, dictate to us.
TAPPER: Me, too.
WALTER: Yes, people like me, right, just because I'm bored doesn't mean that we have to start.
TAPPER: George, who do you like? Who -- who is the strongest nominee of the ones I mentioned or if there's one that I didn't mention?
WILL: How many people remember that Huckabee got more delegates than Mitt Romney got? Huckabee won Iowa. I believe the president's secret weapon may be the Republican nominating electorate, because there is one person high in the polls, Sarah Palin, who cannot be elected, because she cannot compete where elections are decided in the collar counties around Chicago, Montgomery County outside Philadelphia, just can't compete there.
The person who wins the White House usually wins a majority of the electoral votes in the Mississippi Valley. To me, that says Pawlenty, Thune, perhaps, Mitch Daniels, certainly.
TAPPER: The governor of Indiana?
GARRETT: It will start later, but it will last longer. And there's a significant development in the Republican Party as the way it's going to apportion delegates that's going to make this process last longer and make it much more difficult for Sarah Palin to have any chance of securing the nomination, and here's why.
It 2008, Mike Huckabee won 270 delegates. He won 24 percent of the caucus vote, 20 percent of the primary vote, but he only got 12 percent of the delegates. Same thing with Mitt Romney, 38 percent of the caucus vote, 22 percent of the primary vote, 8.6 percent of the allocated delegates. Why? Because they were delegated -- or they were allocated, rather, on a winner-take-all basis. You win the primary, you win the caucus, you get all the delegates.
Now every contest up until April 1st for Republicans will be proportional distribution of delegates, which will keep all of these many contenders in the race longer and longer, make it much more difficult for Sarah Palin to run an inside straight in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, where she's the strongest in the early states, and run away with this, which means it's going to be a long-running contest, which means organization, discipline, and having done it before counts, so Huckabee and Romney, I think, start with an advantage.
TAPPER: Donna, do you see the same type of insurgent-versus-establishment tension playing out in the Republican presidential primaries that we saw in the midterm elections, not aimed just against Democrats, but against Republican establishment candidates, as well?
BRAZILE: I mean, you know what I witnessed at the Republican convention back in 2008, was a need to have an energizing campaign, and Sarah Palin was the energizer. She turned a four-car funeral into a real campaign. I mean, you know -- but I like this list of Republicans. I mean, it's going to give Democrats so much to think about, so much to -- to shout about, and clearly so much to organize about.
I think early on, Mitch Daniels, some of the governors will -- will be the -- you know, the talk of the town, but at the end of the day, it's all about Sarah Palin.
TAPPER: There is an unusual wild card that came out this weekend. In an interview with Newsweek, the former governor of Utah -- is that right...
TAPPER: ... the former governor of Utah, who is now the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, a story in Newsweek suggests that, even though he is a member of the Obama administration, he may consider running for president. How seriously do you take this?
WALTER: Well, I think a lot of people are taking it seriously, but then they look at the fact that he is a member of the Obama administration. There are a lot of Republicans who say, remember, that's not going to sit too well with the Republican electorate. And his views on a lot of issues, hot-button issues, especially on gay issues and cap and trade, are not going to sit well. He -- he -- he performed very well, as George points out, in those -- I could see him doing very well in collar counties. But in a Republican primary, it's a totally different story.
WILL: There were those, at the time that he was made ambassador to China, who said this was a farsighted Obama administration getting a potential rival out of the way.
TAPPER: Right, David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, said he was the only one that gave him the -- I don't...
GARRETT: Made him a bit queasy.
TAPPER: Made him queasy.
WILL: Well, I think they should take their seasickness pills, and I don't think he'll be the nominee.
TAPPER: We only have one minute left, Major.
GARRETT: It would be extremely difficult to imagine a scenario in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina where Jon Huntsman could do anything more than 5 percent or 6 percent or 7 percent, be a spoiler, a particularly a spoiler for Mitt Romney, possibly because he could divide Mormon organization, Mormon money, and the overall sense of someone with a governor clean-cut economic message, which Romney is trying and has been for a very long time trying to monopolize. That would be the one effect that he would have if he ran.
TAPPER: Donna, very briefly, we have 30 seconds left. As an Obama supporter, who is the last Republican you want to be -- you want to be the nominee?
BRAZILE: Mitch Daniels. I think he's an interesting candidate. I think he would make a strong Republican nominee, but I don't think he can beat President Obama. But I think...
WILL: Is that sabotage?
GARRETT: One must always wonder.
TAPPER: You like Daniels?
WILL: I do like Daniels, and I think that Americans often vote for the opposite of what has disappointed them. If they're disappointed with Mr. Obama, then a short, balding, unimpressive, uncharismatic, competent governor might be just the key.
TAPPER: All right. Well, the roundtable will continue...
BRAZILE: Bring it on...
BRAZILE: ... bring it on.
TAPPER: ... in the green room at abcnews.com/thisweek, where you can also find our fact checks in conjunction with PolitiFact.