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First Thoughts: Walking away

GOP walks away from the grand bargain… Recapping what took place over the weekend… Today’s agenda: Obama presser at 11:00 am ET and another White House meeting afterward… Boehner’s leadership is under scrutiny… Breaking down Pawlenty’s appearance on “Meet the Press”… Three nuggets from Palin’s interview with Newsweek… And Gingrich, Cain, and Bachmann are in Iowa, while Huntsman is in South Carolina.

*** Walking away: Six months ago, how many Republicans would have believed: 1) that the Obama White House would have backed a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years; 2) that the president would agree to link the debt limit to spending cuts; and 3) that Obama would put Medicare and Social Security on the table? The Tea Party and deficit hawks like Jim DeMint would have won the argument when it comes to debt, and they would have achieved something -- especially on Medicare and Social Security -- they’d probably never get under a Republican president, unless he or she had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But Republicans walked away from the deal, because they wouldn’t give up the one thing that Democrats were asking for in return: any increases in tax hikes for the rich

*** Recapping what took place over the weekend: To recap the events over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner called President Obama on Saturday evening, telling him that the GOP couldn’t support the big deal ($4 trillion) because of the tax hikes and that he prefers the middle-sized deal (about $2.5 trillion). Obama met again last night with congressional leaders for about 75 minutes, and it was reportedly tense (but still respectful). Everyone in the meeting agreed on the necessity of raising the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, but Obama said that going big was the easier path. Boehner, per his office, said that the mid-sized deal was the more viable option. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office released a statement saying it was “disappointing that the president is unable to bring his own party around to the entitlement reform that he put on the table.”

*** Today’s agenda: Today, Obama holds a news conference at 11:00 am ET before the leaders are set to once again meet at the White House. And the objective of today’s meeting: have Republicans explain how they plan to achieve $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction and get that passed through the House and the Senate. Republicans Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl were tasked with coming to the meeting today with a version of the mid-sized deal that can pass; there is real doubt that it could. Reminder: The Biden group agreed to about $1.5 trillion in cuts, while another $500 billion cuts would be included ONLY IF the $200-300 billion in tax loophole closures Democrats are asking for are included.

*** Boehner’s leadership under scrutiny: With the apparent end of the “grand bargain,” Boehner and his leadership have come under fresh scrutiny, after the speaker originally seemed open to the big deal and the revenue hikes that came with it. The New York Times says Boehner's reversal over the weekend "highlighted the challenge he faces in persuading his party to tolerate any compromise on government spending and exposed the fissures within his own leadership team over how to proceed." And as a GOP lawmaker told Politico: “I don’t think Boehner had a choice, given the outcry against any tax increases in any form — from the presidential candidates to some of our more vocal freshmen.” What’s more, Democrats are enjoying what appears to be a fragile relationship between Boehner and Cantor, who all along has preferred the mid-sized deal. In fact, one senior Senate Democratic aide told NBC’s Libby Leist that Cantor did all the talking for House Republicans last night while Boehner "just sat there."

*** Boehner’s in a box: Politically, Boehner's in a box. If he wants to remain leader of the House Republicans, he can't cut a grand bargain with the president. He could perhaps afford to lose Cantor if he got Paul Ryan on board, but is that likely? And whatever deal was cut, can anyone envision the deal being embraced by the Republican presidentials? So how does Boehner cut a deal that would get universally derided by all of his party's presidential candidates, let alone Rush Limbaugh (who voiced concern Friday) and other conservative leaders (see Norquist, Grover)?

*** Pawlenty meets the press: In his interview on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Tim Pawlenty made some news. He suggested his candidacy hinges on his showing in the Ames Straw Poll. "In the next 60 days we need to show significant progress. I'm confident in the Iowa straw poll that we will." He said Romney's health-care law will make it difficult for him to be the GOP nominee. "It's going to be difficult for him to be the president with that on his record." But his strongest words were for Michele Bachmann: "I like Congresswoman Bachmann. I've campaigned for her. I respect her. But her record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent. It's nonexistent." Bachmann responded by taking the higher ground. “Instead of negativity, I want to focus on my accomplishments," she said.

*** Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge: But Pawlenty also danced around some of the questions. On whether he agreed with Bachmann's characterization of the Obama administration as a "gangster" government: "Well, everybody's got different rhetoric that they use. But the federal government's out of control. Let's face it. It's plain for everybody to see. So whether you call it a gangster government, out of control, reckless, irresponsible." And on whether he believes homosexuality is a choice or genetic: "There's no scientific conclusion that it's genetic. We don't know that. So we don't know to what extent, you know, it's behavioral and that's something that's been debated by scientists for a long time. But as I understand the science, there's no current conclusion that it's genetic."

*** Three nuggets from Newsweek’s piece on Palin: Newsweek's interview with Sarah Palin -- in which she declared "I believe that I can win a national election" -- contained three nuggets. One, she has plenty of caveats about her own candidacy. "If it came down to the family just saying, ‘Please, Mom, don’t do this,’ then that would be the deal-killer for me, because your family’s gotta be in it with you.” Two, she wants the GOP field to expand. "Thank goodness the field is not yet set. I think that there does need to be more vigorous debate. There needs to be a larger field. And there’s still time." And three, she threatened Boehner: “No, we have to cut spending. It is imperative, and I will be very, very disappointed if Boehner and the leaders of the Republican Party cave on any kind of debt deal in the next couple of months.”

*** On the 2012 trail: A little more than a month before the Ames Straw Poll, many of the GOP candidates campaign in Iowa: Gingrich stumps in Pella and Iowa City… Cain hits Davenport and Urbandale… And Bachmann is in Indianola… Meanwhile, Huntsman keynotes a GOP dinner in Greer, SC.

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