Cracks In The Conservative Armor (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • THE CABINET SHUFFLE: As President Obama prepares for his second term, preparations have begun for the traditional shuffling of the Cabinet, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. Top priority for the president: Choosing successors for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. To replace Clinton, Democratic insiders suggest that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is the frontrunner despite facing criticism for the erroneous comments she made on Sunday shows after the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., also a viable candidate for State. To replace Geithner at Treasury, White House chief of staff Jack Lew is thought to have the inside track if he wants it, with other possibilities including Neal Wolin, the current Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Lael Brainard, current Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. Other informed sources suggest that there is consideration being given to a business or CEO type such as investor Roger Altman, former Time-Warner chair Richard Parsons, and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. WATCH Tapper's "Good Morning America" report and read more about the cabinet shuffle below:
  • SUSAN RICE: 'PILING ON' OR 'POLITICAL SMOKESCREEN'? President Obama has yet to say whether he will nominate U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, but tensions between Democrats and Republicans over her public statements in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack continue to run high. "This Week" headliner Sen. Lindsey Graham told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that he does not believe Rice relied on the most accurate information from the intelligence community when she provided a public explanation for the attack on the U.S. consulate. "I'm increasingly convinced that the best and current intelligence assessment on 16 September went against the video. The video was a political smokescreen," Graham said. But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., disagreed: "I can just tell you, if this were an NFL football game, the critics of Ambassador Rice would be penalized for piling on. For goodness sake, she got the report from the intelligence community. She dutifully reported it to the public, just exactly what we expect her to do."
  • 'NIGHTLINE' EXCLUSIVE - INSIDE THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN: In an exclusive television interview, ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz speaks with Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal about their new movie, "Zero Dark Thirty." The movie details the decade-long intelligence gathering effort to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and culminates with the nighttime raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Raddatz also has a preview on tonight's edition of "World News" and tune in for the extended interview on "Nightline."
  • THE GREAT BI-PARTISAN SHAVE-OFF: With the presidential election long behind them, two of the parties' top flacks joined forces in a show of bald bipartisanship Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," ABC's Julie Percha reports. Thanks to a little buzz shear help from ABC News' Jon Karl (who confessed, "I have never done this before"), Democratic National Committee spokesperson Brad Woodhouse and Republican National Committee spokesperson Sean Spicer lost their locks on our show - and it's all for a good cause. Before the election, the DNC's Woodhouse tweeted a bet to his Republican counterpart, Spicer. The deal: Whoever's candidate won the election would shave the loser's head, on national television. But rather than let Spicer go bald alone, the pair decided to team up to support the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a national non-profit that raises money for childhood cancer research grants by shaving the heads of volunteers. As of this morning, Spicer had received $5,445 for St. Baldrick's and Woodhouse, $6,451. For more information, or to donate, check out Spicer and Woodhouse's fundraising pages.


So much for pledges?

As lawmakers return to Washington today, the deadline to put on the brakes before the country plunges off the fiscal cliff is now in sight, and it appears that both sides are open to some wheeling and dealing.

For Republicans, that may mean breaking a promise many of them made not to raise taxes.

"When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday in a "This Week" interview. "Republicans should put revenue on the table."

But for Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, the spirit of the pledge seems as alive as ever even as GOP lawmakers like Graham publicly contemplate defecting.

"What the pledge does of course is allows elected officials to make it clear openly to their voters where they stand," Norquist said in an interview with ABC's David Kerley. "Are they going to be with reforming government or raising taxes to continue more of the same?"

Norquist is casting the pledge as lawmakers' "commitment to their constituents" - rather than to him - and he told ABC News over the weekend that the hundreds who have signed it "are largely keeping it."

But other prominent Republicans are joining Graham, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who signaled his openness to re-thinking the pledge yesterday on NBC's "Meet The Press."

"The world is changed and the economic situation is different," King said.

Of course, Graham on "This Week" and other GOP members of Congress who appeared on the Sunday talk shows qualified their support for raising revenue on not raising tax rates but rather on capping certain deductions.

And for all the talk of taxes, there's another elephant in the room that gets a lot less attention: Entitlement reform.

"I will violate the pledge - long story short - for the good of the country only if Democrats will do entitlement reform," Graham said.

Also appearing on "This Week," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., acknowledged that "meaningful reforms" for Medicare should be on the table.

"Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing," Durbin said. "So those who say don't touch it, don't change it are ignoring the obvious."

But how many other Democrats are going to be willing to see serious reform as part of the discussion?


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Grover Norquist is correct. The "pledge" is between elected officials and their constituents, not candidates and the man whose name has become synonymous with the anti-tax promise. But that's what makes the breaks in the ranks significant: Republican lawmakers are talking publicly about defying the pledge knowing full well the political risk that brings. While shockingly little progress was made in fiscal cliff talks at the staff level during the Thanksgiving break, the time won't have been wasted if lawmakers used it to come to terms with the plunge they're about to take.

ABC Political Analyst MATT DOWD: "Grover Norquist is an impediment to good governing and … the only good thing about Grover Norquist is he's named after a character from 'Sesame Street.'"

BEN AFFLECK: SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON THE CONGO. Yesterday George Stephanopoulos spoke with actor and activist Ben Affleck on "This Week." Affleck - the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative - spoke about the conflict in war-torn Congo that has flared up as rebels seized control of the eastern city of Goma last week. "There's a huge amount that the U.S. can do, frankly. I mean, we have a lot of levers there. We can engage in the kind of high-level, shuttle diplomacy that you saw be so effective in Gaza," said Affleck, who expressed concern about the deteriorating conditions in the African nation. Affleck was joined by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who argued that the United States - tied up at the moment by recent events in the Middle East - can and should exert influence in the troubled region in Africa. "Well, we have a lot of influence in the region. I just want to emphasize that we are in a position to make a difference there. We have built relationships with Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, a lot of it around Somalia, Al-Shabaab, Lord's Resistance Army coming out of Uganda. We have influence in the region with key players," Smith said.


-MATT DOWD, ABC News political analyst: "I think it'll be a short-term deal, it'll be a short-term fix, it'll be a fix on some revenue, some expenditures. It won't go much past two years. They won't do anything on entitlements. They don't really make any fundamental changes in those programs. It'll be a short-term deal to get done."

-RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post columnist: "The Republican House offer that came in the aftermath of that very nice-sounding meeting with words of encouragement and moderation and flexibility on both sides, it was an offer, as far as I have reported, that did not reflect the impact of the election."

-PEGGY NOONAN, Wall Street Journal columnist: "I think the president and the speaker could see this as an opportunity, this fiscal cliff thing, to convince people, you know what, we still can govern, and that would be heartening."

-JOE KLEIN, Time Magazine: "I think that … this election mattered, in a way. I think that there was a tremendous fever in the country, a fever of intransigence and partisanship, and that fever has broken. I think Grover Norquist's sell-by date has passed. And Obama has already put entitlement reforms on the table in his private negotiations with - with Boehner a year ago. And I think that we're going to get a deal. We may go over the cliff for a week or two weeks or whatever, but I'm optimistic that there's going to be a deal."

-DAVID SANGER, The New York Times: "The president's leverage goes up as you get closer to that date, George, because - exactly because the taxes all go up, at that moment, then he's just negotiating about how much to cut them back down. And I suspect that as they get closer to the date, the Republicans are going to look at the president's leverage, post-January 1, and think they may not want to go face that."


-DOWD: "I think one of the great things about that movie, beautiful movie, loved the movie, is - is that progress is never made through pure means. And that - I mean, if everybody has this vision of Lincoln and all that, this whole idea of Lincoln, he was so forthright in that, but basically he employed impure means in order to accomplish something that was going to make the country progress, the 13th Amendment, and that, I think, is a great lesson."

-MARCUS: "The president had this screening of 'Lincoln' at the White House, which I was not at, but he should have a regular 4 o'clock showing. Everybody should come, sit down in those nice seats, eat the popcorn, and recognize a few things, from the president's point of view, that nice words and lofty speeches, Gettysburg Address, are wonderful, but we also need sort of hard-headed, a little bit sleazy deal-making. Lobbying, we'll call it."

KLEIN: "I think that the ultimate message of that wonderful movie - I thought it was an act of patriotism on Spielberg's part to make it in that way - the ultimate message is, bring back earmarks … Earmarks have always been the grease, you know, that greases the wheels that get things - get things done. I think John McCain did a tremendous disservice to this country by making such a huge campaign about earmarks, when there are far bigger and more important targets to be met."


COMMERCE SECRETARY: Any of the business or CEO types being discussed for Treasury Secretary (see above) could also serve as Secretary of Commerce, a position that for the Obama administration has proved as troublesome as the role of drummer in Spinal Tap. Jeff Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management & Budget, is said to be under consideration.

DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's too flip to refer to it as a consolation prize, but informed sources say that - with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also planning on leaving - Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. could be offered the position Secretary of Defense if he wants it, though he has suggested he only wants State. Another option, Michelle Flournoy, a former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, would be the first female to serve in that position.

CHIEF OF STAFF: If Jack Lew leaves to take the position at Treasury, some possible replacements for him as chief of staff include deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough or Vice President Biden's current chief of staff Ron Klain. Tom Nides, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, has also been discussed.

THE INNER CIRCLE: President Obama's senior adviser David Plouffe has also long discussed leaving the White House. There are many options to file his shoes, including the elevation of communications director Dan Pfeiffer. Also possible: bringing back former press secretary Robert Gibbs, or former deputy chief of staff/campaign manager Jim Messina. Another option might be to bring in some of the people who were part of the messaging shop in the campaign - David Simus, who served as director of opinion research for the campaign, or Larry Grisolano, who did ads for campaign.


with ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)

CYBER MONDAY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES NEW REPORT ON MIDDLE CLASS TAX CUTS. The White released a new report from the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers this morning, which happens to be Cyber Monday, titled "The Middle Class Tax Cuts' Impact on Consumer Spending and Retailers." The report takes a look at what the Obama administration says will be the potential impact to retailers and consumer spending if Congress fails to extend tax cuts to the middle class by the end of the year as part of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

NEW CONGRESS: FEWER MODERATES MAKE DEALS HARDER. The AP's Alan Fram reports: "When the next Congress cranks up in January, there will be more women, many new faces and 11 fewer tea party-backed House Republicans from the class of 2010 who sought a second term. Overriding those changes, though, is a thinning of pragmatic, centrist veterans in both parties. Among those leaving are some of the Senate's most pragmatic lawmakers, nearly half the House's centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans."

FISCAL CLIFF ALERT: WHO WILL JUMP? "Call them the cliff jumpers. A growing bloc of emboldened liberals say they're not afraid to watch defense spending get gouged and taxes go up on every American if a budget deal doesn't satisfy their priorities," notes Politico's Seung Min Kim. "Here's what these progressives fear: an agreement that keeps lower tax rates for the wealthy, hits the social safety net with unpalatable cuts and leaves Pentagon spending unscathed. In other words, they'd rather walk the country off the cliff than watch President Barack Obama cave on long-held liberal priorities."

GOING AROUND THE CHAMBER. Bloomberg's Julie Bykowicz reports: "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce shouts 'JOBS' with two-story-tall block letters strung on its building facing the White House. That might be the closest the business trade association gets to President Barack Obama's talks on skirting the fiscal cliff, a $607 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January. The chamber, which spent at least $50 million on political advertising backing Republican candidates who opposed Obama, is a bystander in the debate over Washington's most critical post- election issue. It is being supplanted by other business groups such as Fix the Debt and the Partnership for New York City."

INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE'S TAX OFFENSIVE. The New York Times' Michael D. Shear reports: "With lawmakers scheduled to return to work on Monday to begin intense discussions before a looming fiscal deadline, Mr. Obama's aides are trying to harness the passions that returned him to the White House, hoping to pressure Republicans in Congress to accept tax increases on the wealthy. The president's strategists are turning first to the millions of e-mail addresses assembled by the campaign and the White House. Already, supporters are being asked to record YouTube videos of themselves talking about the importance of raising taxes on the rich. Aides said those videos would be shared on Facebook and Twitter and would be forwarded to centrist Democrats, as well as to mainstream Republicans, who they hope will break with their Tea Party colleagues."

FIGHT OVER SUSAN RICE HOLDS RISKS FOR OBAMA, GOP LAWMAKERS. The Hill's Justin Sink reports: "President Obama and congressional Republicans appear to be itching for a fight over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's possible nomination as Secretary of State. The ensuing political battle, however, comes with high risks and uncertain rewards for both sides. So far, President Obama has aggressively defended Rice from attacks by leading GOP lawmakers over her handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But in doing so, Obama risks wasting his reelection political capital on a fight that may not be worth winning. A major battle over Rice's nomination could easily distract from the president's other priorities, beginning with the negotiations over the looming 'fiscal cliff.'"

CONSERVATIVE ACTIVISTS URGE NEW GOP TONE. The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. and Victoria McGrane report: "In digging to explain why the Republican Party fell short in the Nov. 6 election, some conservatives say the GOP needs to shed the perception that it is a defender of big business and large financial institutions. These activists-including tea-party activists but also some mainline Republicans-say the party should adopt a more populist tone, one that places more emphasis on ways Republican policies would help the middle class."

IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS (AT 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVE.) Malia, Sasha, and first dog Bo joined the First Lady Michelle Obama to welcome the official White House Christmas tree over the long weekend reports ABC's Serena Marshall. The 19-foot Fraser fir from Peak Farms in Ashe County, N.C., was brought in on a wagon by two Clydesdale horses driven by two men donning top hats and red bow ties, while the Marine Band played "Oh Christmas Tree." The tree, which was selected in early October and harvested this month, will be placed on display in the Blue Room throughout the holiday season. Farm owners Rusty and Beau Estes are this year's grand champion winners of the National Christmas Tree Association, which has provided the White House tree each year since 1966.


-RICK SANTORUM TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST UN DISABILITIES TREATY. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, along with his wife Karen, will co-host a news conference today with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association to oppose the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to a release from Santorum's Patriot Voices PAC, the UN treaty "threatens U.S. sovereignty and parental rights and would effectively put the U.S. under international law when it comes to parenting special needs children." The Santorums will bring their daughter Bella, a special needs child, to the news conference, which takes place at 4:30 on Capitol Hill.


@JillDLawrence: Bob Corker latest Republican to break w Norquist on tax pledge. Real question now, will anyone move from closing loopholes to raising rates

@nytjim: Southern Living magazine hires Bush daughter, Jenna, hoping to appeal to younger readers. via @mediadecodernyt

@ckanal: Rumors that Paul Ryan unfollowed Mitt Romney: NOT true! @RepPaulRyan never followed him, @PaulRyanVp still is. ^ @benhjacobs

@JonThompsonDC: Great news for the GOP: "Shelley Moore Capito will announce Monday that she is running in 2014 for the U.S. Senate"

@HotlineReid: MA Dems discussing repealing special election for vacant SEN seat law, put in place to stop Romney appointing Kerry successor #HotlineSort

@HariSevugan: So, we're still using "cyber?"