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First Thoughts: Wiggle room

Obama leaves himself some wiggle in fiscal-cliff talks (on where the top tax rate ultimately ends up)… The fundamental question: Are there Republicans who would vote for a temporary increase in the top rate?... Why Romney’s “gifts” explanation for his loss is laughable… Obama vs. McCain: Hard to separate the personal from the professional… Obama heads to New York to survey Hurricane Sandy damage… Autopsy 2012: looking at the African-American vote… And David Gregory interviews Doris Kearns Goodwin in his weekly “Press Pass” video.

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference Nov.14, 2012 in the East Room of the White House.

*** Wiggle room: Besides rebuking John McCain on his criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice and besides praising Gen. David Petraeus’ service, President Obama made some other big news at yesterday’s press conference. He gave himself some wiggle room in the upcoming fiscal cliff negotiations. Obama did draw a line in the sand, arguing that he would oppose extension of the Bush tax cuts on all income above $250,000. “When it comes to the Top 2%, what I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars.” But where he left some wiggle room was where those top rates would ultimately be. When one of us asked him if the top rates must be the 39% from the Clinton years, Obama responded, “I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas. If Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn’t getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth, I’m not going to just slam the door in their face.”

*** The fundamental question: Are there enough Republican votes? The news here isn’t just what Obama said; it’s also what Republicans heard -- that there is the possibility for a deal on where the top rates eventually end up. They were relieved to hear what the president said. Folks, realize this: For 2013, the rate could go up to, say, 37% for some folks and 39% for millionaires, or maybe it’s just the millionaires. The point is, that’s where the president hinted he’s willing to negotiate and there certainly sounds like there is an openness among some Republicans to negotiate on those grounds. For their part, the wiggle room that GOP leaders have indicated is that they’re in favor of more revenues, just not higher rates. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan gave a statement to Breitbart News saying that any new revenue must come without raising rates. “We can find common ground on responsible spending restraint and greater revenue through economic growth, but we have yet to see either a serious plan or leadership from President Obama,” Ryan said. So here’s the fundamental question given the wiggle room from both sides so far: Can House Republicans tolerate a temporary increase in the top rate with the assumption that the rate could later be negotiated as part of broader tax reform? Could GOPers -- thinking about the prospect of a primary challenge -- consider doing that?

*** We come bearing “gifts”: In a conference call with his top donors yesterday, Mitt Romney blamed his defeat on the fact that President Obama and his administration were able to offer “gifts” to African-American, Latino, and young voters, according to the L.A. Times and New York Times. What were those gifts in Romney’s telling? The health-care law. Help with student loans. Free contraception under the health-care law. The executive action stopping the deportation of qualified young illegal immigrants. Some Republicans weren’t too pleased by Romney’s words, which seemed like a rehash of his infamous “47%” comments. “I think that’s absolutely wrong,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said at a Republican Governors Association meeting, per Politico. “Two points on that: One, we have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100% of the votes, not 53%... And, secondly, we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream.” Latino Republican Alfonso Aguilar, a Romney supporter, called the remarks a “slap in the face” to the Latino community and added, “He lost the election by making comments like that to Latinos.”

While President Barack Obama was paying Mitt Romney compliments in his post-election press conference, the former GOP presidential candidate was telling donors on a conference call a different story. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Why Romney’s “gifts” explanation is laughable: When you think about it, Romney’s explanation for Obama’s victory is laughable -- the president won because he successfully delivered to his voters. Isn’t that what politicians and presidents are supposed to do? In addition, Romney’s “gifts” rationale doesn’t explain why he lost Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, states with older and whiter populations. What’s particularly striking here: Jindal’s criticism. He was the first Republican to step up here, and it’s an easy brave moment if you’re an aspiring 2016er. A softball to hit out of the park. Romney, sounding more bitter than big in those comments, is giving plenty of aspiring Republican leaders to now use this moment to distinguish themselves from Romney. Watch for a bunch of folks on the GOP side to pile on actually.

*** Hard to separate the personal from the professional: Then we come to yesterday’s back-and-forth between President Obama and John McCain over Susan Rice. It all began in the morning, when McCain, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, essentially tried to declare Susan Rice’s potential nomination as Secretary of State to be D.O.A. because of her performance on the Sunday shows days after the Benghazi attack. Obama seemed particularly fired up at the opportunity to respond at his press conference: “If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” McCain then took the Senate floor: "If the president thinks that we are picking on people, he really does not have any idea of how serious this issue is." Part of this is the bulldog in McCain; when he gets focused on an issue (see campaign finance reform), he doesn’t let go. And McCain’s been focused on Benghazi since the get-go. But make no mistake here: It’s very hard to separate the personal from the professional (especially when McCain supported the other Rice -- Condi -- despite intelligence failures that happened under her watch). McCain and his party have now lost twice to Obama, and that frustration shows.

*** Rice’s chances of being nominated just increased: One other thing here: If you thought that Obama might decide to pass on nominating Susan Rice to be the next Secretary of State, think again. Yesterday’s confrontation might have been the best thing to happen to her chances of being nominated. The president is a pragmatist and is usually someone who likes to avoid confirmation fights for his appointees. But the more the GOP attacks Rice, the more dug in the White House and president might get.

*** Obama’s day: The president heads to New York City to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. This is Obama’s second Sandy-related trip and his first since winning re-election.

*** Autopsy 2012: The size of the African-American vote: With just two exceptions, in every state where there’s a sizable African-American population (and 2012 exit polls), the share of the African-American vote either stayed the same -- or increased in last week’s presidential election. Where it increased: Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio. Where it stayed the same: Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia. Where it decreased: Alabama and New York (and in both cases, it was by just one percentage point). Bottom line: One of the most bogus storylines of the last four years (driven by some African American leaders who have never been Obama fans) is the idea that somehow African-Americans weren’t going to be as fired up about Obama or were somehow disappointed and would show that disappointment by not showing up to the polls.

Alabama: 2008: 29%; 2012: 28%
Florida: 2008: 13%; 2012: 13%
Michigan: 2008: 12%; 2012: 16%
Mississippi: 2008: 33%; 2012: 36%
Missouri: 2008: 13%; 2012: 16%
New Jersey: 2008: 12%; 2012: 18%
New York: 2008: 17%; 2012: 16%
Ohio: 2008: 11%; 2012: 15%
North Carolina: 2008: 23%; 2012: 23%
Pennsylvania: 2008: 13%; 2012: 13%
Virginia: 2008: 20%; 2012: 20%

*** More Autopsy 2012: “Daily Rundown” MSNBC producer Dave Murphy offers some additional analysis of the exit polls, ranking where the battleground states stood on some of the top issues. The battleground state that most wants the government to do less? Iowa. The state that most wants to repeal all or some of the health-care law? Colorado. The state that most wants to keep it or expand it? Wisconsin. And the state that most wants to raise taxes on everyone or those making $250,000-plus? Nevada.

Government should do less
Iowa: 61%
Colorado: 60%
Ohio: 56%
New Hampshire: 53%
Nevada: 51%
Virginia: 51%
National Average: 51%
Wisconsin: 50%
Florida: 50%

Health care law
Colorado: +16 repeal some/all
Iowa: +15 repeal some/all
Ohio: +12 repeal some/all
Florida: +9 repeal some/all
National Average: +5 repeal some/all
Nevada: +2 repeal some/all
Virginia: +1 repeal some/all
New Hampshire: even 
Wisconsin: +3 keep/expand

Raise taxes for $250K+ earners or everyone
Nevada: 64%
Wisconsin: 64%
Virginia: 63%
Iowa: 63%
New Hampshire: 61%
National Average: 60%
Ohio: 57%
Florida: 57%

*** David Gregory, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Lincoln: In his weekly “Press Pass” video, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory interviews historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about the new “Lincoln” movie, which Obama screens at the White House today upon his arrival from New York.

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