US Politics Digest: Obama campaigns on fiscal cliff, Hillary successor trouble and more

The latest US politics news - including President Barack Obama campaigning on the the fiscal cliff and trouble for Hillary Clinton's potential successor.


Top News

Obama to take fiscal cliff case on road

President Obama will today leave Washington to explain how he would resolve the impasse over tax rises and spending reductions set to occur early next year if Congress does not take action soon. The Democrat is travelling to a toy factory in Pennsylvania, where he will warn of the effect uncertainty over the ‘fiscal cliff’ could have on consumer spending this holiday season.

The visit follows other events this week during which Obama has looked to win support for his stance on dealing with the cliff. Wednesday saw the President launch a public relations drive on extending middle class tax cuts and talk with senior businesspeople about increases in tax rates for wealthy Americans. Congressional Republicans are to hold their own roadshows this weekend, even as some GOP leaders criticise Obama for getting back on the campaign trail.

The administration has opened cross-party talks on the cliff with an ambitious plan which includes $1.6 trillion in tax rises over ten years, $50 billion of stimulus measures and a permanent increase in the debt ceiling. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has responded unenthusiastically, saying the White House needs to “get serious” and end gamesmanship.

Senior officials previously indicated to Politico that the basis of a long-term deal was taking shape, suggesting overall tax rises of $1.2tn, Medicare cuts of $400bn, and spending reductions of $1.2tn could all be on the table. The cuts proposed in this outline drew a hostile reaction from the Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus.

Top Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, claimed a controversial anti-tax pledge drawn up by conservative activist Grover Norquist does not oblige them to reject any deal that increases revenues. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and New York Congressman Peter King are among prominent legislators who have said they are prepared to violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge if certain conditions are met.

Some commentators have dismissed these statements, arguing Republicans still prefer the idea of closing loopholes to direct tax rises or will only swap tax increases for major spending cuts. One senior GOP representative, Oklahoma’s Tom Cole, was not rebuked by Norquist when he suggested Republicans voting to renew Bush-era tax cuts solely for those making $250,000 or less would be acting within the bounds of the TPP.

Related polling: [ABC/WaPo]; [YouGov America]; [Pew].

Potential Clinton successor faces fresh heat over Libya

One of the contenders tipped to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has run into trouble after attempting to justify comments she made about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi to Republican Senators.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice was criticised by Arizona’s John McCain, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte for not providing them with clear answers about whether she knew the assault was linked to terrorism when she appeared on television shows following the tragedy. The three said they were “troubled” by Rice’s responses during private meetings, and pledged to block her appointment if President Obama nominated her to State.

The former Clinton-era official won a more sympathetic hearing from McCain ally Joe Lieberman but failed to impress moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins, who subsequentlyattempted to link her to security failures which preceded the 1998 Africa embassy bombings.

Obama has staunchly defended Rice, calling her an “extraordinary” public servant. Her rollout this week implies she is his preferred choice to succeed Clinton, although the reception she received on Capitol Hill may force the President to go with his close ally and mentor John Kerry instead. A Kerry nomination would have a significant impact on Massachusetts politics and trigger another special election in the Bay State.

In other cabinet speculation, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is being vetted for a national security post, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin has been tipped to succeed his boss Timothy Geithner and former Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton John Podesta is rumoured to be in the running for Energy Secretary.

Prez meets Romney for lunch

President Obama and Mitt Romney dined together at the White House yesterday, in what marked their first meeting since the end of the presidential campaign. According to an official statement, the two men enjoyed a lunch of white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad and discussed “America’s leadership in the world”. They also said they would “stay in touch”, especially if “opportunities to work together” materialised in the future. Before he met Obama, Romney called on his former running mate Paul Ryan, who said he was grateful to his onetime partner for inviting him to join the Republican ticket.

It emerged earlier this week that Romney may take up an office at a venture capital firm founded by his son Tagg, but will not have a professional role there. In a related development, former aide Stu Stevens has publicly defended Romney’s candidacy and attributed his defeat to messaging problems. This analysis has been panned by several Republican commentators.

SCOTUS to consider taking same-sex marriage cases

The US Supreme Court will today decide if it should hear a number of cases relating to same-sex marriage, in a move that could have momentous consequences for gay couples across America. The nine justices of the court will vote on whether to review a lower court ruling which struck down California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that defined marriage in the Golden State as being between a man and a woman. They will also consider taking on challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. These do not concern the principle of equal marriage itself, but focus on whether legally-wed gay couples can be refused federal benefits.

The consent of four justices is required for the court to take on any of the lawsuits. It has long been suggested Anthony Kennedy, a relatively conservative judge who was instrumental in the Supreme Court’s most recent LGBT rights rulings, will determine the outcome of any same-sex marriage case brought before the court.

BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner lays out the options before the justices today and discusses the implications were they to endorse the lower court ruling on Proposition 8 or take one particular case pertaining to DOMA.

Reid wins WH blessing for filibuster battle

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has gained the support of President Obama in his effort to overhaul use of the filibuster in the upper chamber. A statement from the White House said Obama – who as a senator warned about ending the filibuster – backed reform to ensure “progress” and end “partisan delay games”. Reid and his opposite number Mitch McConnell have sparred publicly over the Nevadan’s plans, which would require the requisite number of senators to engage in a filibuster, not just threaten one, to halt legislation.

The Minority Leader said Reid was attempting to “break the rules to change the rules”, while the Democrat described his proposals as “common sense”. Speaker John Boehner subsequently backed McConnell’s position. Reid could push through the changes via a procedure which would skirt a traditional 67-vote rule change process – but this might only apply on the first day of a new congress, and has sparked unease within Democratic ranks.

WV Republican in for Senate seat

One of West Virginia’s best known Republicans, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, has said she will contest the Senate seat currently held by veteran Democrat Jay Rockefeller come 2014. Capito, who is a member of one of West Virginia’s most famous political families, has long been talked of as a potential candidate for higher office. Her candidacy has been welcomed by members of the Republican establishment, although conservative activists may mount a primary challenge in light of her record on federal spending. Their threats have been dismissed by electoral analysts, who note the Mountain State’s relatively leftward tilt on fiscal issues.

Senator Rockefeller is refusing to say whether he will run for another term, but in the past year he has given speeches implying he will not contest another election.

In more Midterm news, South Dakota’s former GOP Governor Mike Rounds has revealed he is to contest the Senate seat occupied by Democrat Tim Johnson and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner may take on Colorado’s Democratic Senator Mark Udall. North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan has said she intends to run for a second term.

Christie looking good for 2013

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is in excellent shape for re-election next year, according to new surveys published this week. A poll by Quinnipiac found 71% of Garden State voters approving of the combative Republican’s job performance in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, with 52% of Democrats rating his work. The same firm had him 18 points ahead of Newark’s popular Mayor Cory Booker, who also ran far behind Christie in separate findings compiled by Rutgers.

Booker, a well-known Democrat who enjoys a cordial relationship with Christie, has said he is giving “thorough consideration” to the idea of running. New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney could enter the race if Booker declines. Christie filed the paperwork necessary to run for a second term on Tuesday.

Further poll: [FDU].

Top GOPer declines VA governor bid

Virginia’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling has said he will not seek his party’s nomination for governor next year, clearing the way for conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to run as the GOP candidate to succeed retiring incumbent Bob McDonnell.

Cuccinelli, who is known for his trenchant opposition to Obamacare, will probably face former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 general election unless charismatic ex-congressman Tom Perriello enters and defeats McAuliffe in the Democratic primary. Bolling did leave the door open to running as an independent contender, but is thought unlikely to abandon his party.

News in Brief

• Prez still holds positive approval rating [CNN], [Gallup];

• GOP Senators launch DREAM alternative [WaPo]; immigration advocates dismissive [BuzzFeed];

• Inquiry into Gen Allen emails narrowing [NYT]; Petraeus contrite over affair [NY Post];

• Q3 growth revised upward [BBC News]; consumer confidence continues to soar [AFP];

• Treasury declines to label China currency manipulator [Bloomberg];

• Senate moves to place limits on military detention [Huffington Post];

• Pelosi re-elected as Minority Leader [Reuters];

• Men occupy all House committee chairs [BuzzFeed];

• Religious challenge to Obamacare goes to Supreme Court [Reuters];

• Clinton criticises UN’s Palestine vote [Politico];

• Under-fire Morsi lavishes praise on Obama [Time]; bipartisan group makes Egypt aid recommendations [NYT];

• SEC chief steps down [WSJ];

• Biden to attend Mexico inauguration [USA Today]; delights punters with Costco trip [LA Times];

• Republicans kill hunting bill [Salt Lake Tribune]; cool on disability treaty [AP];

• Bloomberg petitions for Sandy relief [BuzzFeed]; Cuomo in ill-judged Katrina comparison [The Hill];

• Naked AIDS protesters invade Boehner office [Guardian];

• Pro-life groups attack McCain over abortion remarks [CAP];

• Santorum won’t rule out 2016 bid [Huffington Post];

• Political chatter abounds at Jeb education conference [National Journal];

• Incoming Texas Senator talks reasons for GOP’s loss [The Atlantic];

• Jesse Jackson Jr facing more questions over fed probe [Politico]; candidates enter race to succeed [The Hill];

• Axelrod to shave moustache live for charity [WaPo].

Best of the Web

Mother Jones’s David Corn takes on the notion President Obama caved on extending the Bush tax cuts two years ago, a view which he argues is colouring negotiations over the fiscal cliff. Far from yielding to Republican leaders during the lame-duck congress of 2010, Obama conceded low tax rates for the wealthy to push through key economic priorities, including stimulus measures. The Democrat is still failing to challenge preconceptions about this episode, which revealed him to be a legislative pragmatist.

The National Journal’s Rebecca Kaplan wonders how Mitt Romney’s former running mate Paul Ryan will handle negotiations over the fiscal cliff in his capacity as House Budget Chair, and speaks to congressional insiders who believe he will press hard on entitlement reform with one eye on his presidential prospects.

Over at The Week, Marc Ambinder discusses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s political future and assesses the likelihood of her running for president four years from now. The nature of the campaign she might run come 2016 is also considered.

On his blog for Forbes, right-wing policy wonk and former Romney campaign adviser Avik Roy warns conservatives cannot afford to ignore health reform in light of the large number of American voters lacking insurance coverage. He goes on to explain how Republicans could use exchanges contained in President Obama’s overhaul of the US health system to develop a market-orientated alternative.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.