Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Here we go again

Here we go again: Boehner and House Republicans walk away from payroll tax cut compromise… Boehner’s move either represents a miscommunication with McConnell and Senate GOP leaders, or a reversal… Two weeks to go until Iowa, and the race looks like it did on Friday -- with Gingrich getting hammered over the airwaves in Iowa and with Romney picking up more endorsements… Gingrich vs. the federal judiciary… Perry vs. a teenage girl on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”… Bachmann vs. Paul on Muslims… And Kim Jong Il dies.

*** Here we go again: Just when it appeared that Democrats and Republican leaders had reached an uncomfortable deal to extend the payroll tax for two months after an overwhelming 89-10 vote in the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner -- clearly facing a revolt from his conservative members -- walked away. “Well, it's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill,” Boehner said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “It's only for two months. You know, the president said we shouldn't go on vacation until we get our work done.” Here is how Roll Call casts the weekend drama: “[T]he House GOP rejected en masse an agreement that had the blessing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and most Senate Republicans. The Kentucky Republican seemed to think that the two-month extension he forged with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Saturday would ultimately pass the House. But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had regularly communicated with McConnell as the deal was crafted, ultimately walked away.”

Video: One on one with Speaker Boehner

*** Either miscommunication or a reversal: Boehner’s decision over the weekend not to support the bipartisan two-month extension represents either a miscommunication with McConnell (who appeared to be under the impression that the House would pass whatever reasonable deal McConnell, Kyl, et al would come up with) or a full reversal for the House speaker. As Roll Call notes, “Some Republicans said Boehner seemed to indicate on the conference call with members that he could support the deal, a claim his office denied.” No matter what happened, it’s highly unlikely that senators would have left Washington, DC -- as they did EN MASSE on Saturday -- if they thought there was any chance the House was going to balk on the measure. One big reason why many House Republicans oppose the two-month extension: It allows the White House and congressional Democrats to continue to push for the popular payroll tax cut after the New Year.  Remember, they have been getting hammered on this back home, and look at the most recent NBC/WSJ poll about which party does a better job at protecting the middle class. Politically, for as much heat as the House GOP is taking on this walk away, perhaps they are right: They can’t afford, politically, to have this issue hanging over their head on Groundhog Day.

House Republicans are pushing back hard against a Senate-approved bill that would extend the payroll tax holiday and jobless benefits for two months. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Two weeks to go: With two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, the GOP presidential race looks a lot like how it looked at the end of last week -- with Gingrich getting hammered over the airwaves and with Romney picking up more endorsements. In fact, just look at the expected TV ad spending in Iowa for THIS WEEK: Restore Our Future PAC (pro-Romney) $713,000, Rick Perry $456,000, Mitt Romney, $258,000, Make Us Great Again (pro-Perry) $186,000, Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum) $100,000, Ron Paul $63,000, and Newt Gingrich $21,000. That’s right, folks: The pro-Romney super PAC is outspending the Gingrich campaign by 34 to 1. And yes, that isn’t a ONE DAY Gingrich ad buy, that’s his total spending on the books for THE WEEK. Meanwhile, over the weekend, Romney won the Des Moines Register’s endorsement and ’96 GOP nominee Bob Dole. And today, he picks up the endorsement from Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, NBC’s Garrett Haake confirms.

*** Gingrich vs. the judiciary: Also over the weekend, Gingrich continued his tough rhetoric toward the federal judiciary. “In a half-hour phone call with reporters Saturday, Gingrich said that, as president, he would abolish whole courts to be rid of judges whose decisions he feels are out of step with the country,” the Washington Post writes. “During an appearance on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation,’ Gingrich suggested the president could send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings.” No matter how incendiary that rhetoric may appear, don’t underestimate how much this issue could resonate with conservative voters, especially in Iowa where social conservatives have been livid at the Iowa Supreme Court.

*** Perry vs. teenage girl on DADT: Here are some other campaign dispatches over the weekend that you shouldn’t miss from the largest and most complete political site on the web, NBCPolitics.com: On Sunday night, NBC’s Carrie Dann reports, Rick Perry was approached by a teenage girl, who questioned him about his recent Iowa ad taking aim at gays serving openly in the military. "I'm just wondering why you're so opposed to gays serving openly in the military and you want to deny their freedom when they're fighting and dying for your right to run for president?" asked 14-year-old Rebecka Green, who was accompanied to the Decorah town hall by her father, Todd.  Perry, who has faced scattered protests on the issue throughout his bus tour in Iowa, told the young woman that he believed President Barack Obama was pressured to change a functional "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy by a progressive voting bloc. “‘Don't Ask Don't Tell’ was working," Perry said, later adding: "This president was forced by his base to change that policy."

*** Bachmann vs. Paul: Per NBC’s Jamie Novogrod, a feud inside the GOP presidential field provoked Michele Bachmann to defend her hard line on Iran on Saturday, while insisting that she doesn't "hate Muslims." Bachmann repeated variations on that phrase in at least three cities during her 99 county bus tour of Iowa. "I don't hate Muslims. I love the American people. And as president of the United States, my goal will be to keep America safe, free, and sovereign," Bachmann told reporters Saturday morning in Estherville. Novogrod notes that Bachmann’s unusually personal self-defense was the latest element in a back-and-forth with Ron Paul, who criticized Bachmann on national television Friday night. Appearing on NBC's "Tonight Show," Paul said Bachmann "doesn’t like" Muslims. "She hates Muslims," Paul added. "She wants to go get 'em."

*** Santorum dismisses Des Moines Register endorsement: NBC’s Anthony Terrell notes that Rick Santorum made three campaign stops across Iowa yesterday -- in Council Bluffs, Red Oak, and Atlantic. In Council Bluffs, Santorum addressed the Des Moines Register’s endorsement of Mitt Romney, saying, “He’s the establishment candidate and its’ a paper that is a fairly liberal paper, and I would expect them to endorse someone who’s the most moderate person in the field.”

*** On the 2012 trail: It’s a VERY busy day on the campaign trail: Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum make multiple stops in Iowa… Huntsman and Anita Perry stump in New Hampshire… And Jackie Gingrich Cushman travels throughout South Carolina as she campaigns for her father.

*** Kim Jong Il dies: The other major news is last night’s death of North Korea dictator Kim Jong Il. The White House says that President Obama called South Korea President Lee at midnight ET, reaffirming “the United States' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination.” Kim Jong Un succeeds his father.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 15 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 22 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 33 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 43 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 47 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 78 days
Countdown to Election Day: 325 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower