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First Thoughts: A fragile deal?

President Barack Obama has no public events planned for Tuesday and not many planned for the remainder of the week. Many at the White House and in Congress believe, the less anyone campaigns publicly, the better their chances at striking a deal. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

If Obama and Boehner are able to strike a deal, it will more than likely be a fragile one… Labor battle in Michigan: right to work and right to protest… Labor takes another punch… But will it be another Pyrrhic victory for the GOP (at least in the short run)?... Will the RNC’s autopsy satisfy conservatives who are charging that establishment GOPers are simply making money off the party, win or lose?... Nikki Haley to hold news conference at noon ET (but isn’t expected to announce appointment)… And meet Sean Patrick Maloney.

Speaker of the House John Boehner provides an update on the fiscal cliff negotiations, placing pressure on the White House to reveal how they intend to compromise with House Republicans on spending cuts.

*** A fragile deal? While there’s some optimism that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner can strike a deal to avert the looming tax hikes and spending cuts -- no news is good news, after all – it’s important to point out how fragile any deal would likely be. If there will be serious tax and entitlement reform, you’ll have triggers to enforce them. So essentially, you’re solving this so-called fiscal cliff by creating new ones. Here are the reasons for optimism: Obama and Boehner met on Sunday; the president’s public schedule is mostly free today (suggesting that he’s busy working on this matter); and more and more Republicans are coming around to the idea that they’re probably going to have to cave on tax rates. But here’s the pessimism: raising the debt ceiling. We’re hearing that this issue might be the biggest obstacle right now. More than taxes or entitlements, that issue appears to be the one that GOP leaders might have the hardest time convincing the rank-and-file to hand over to the Obama White House and Democrats in any kind of deal. And the White House may not realize how important it is for Boehner to stick to his guns on this.

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at the Daimler Detroit Diesel engine plant Dec. 10, 2012 in Redford, Mi.

*** Right to work and right to protest: As NBC’s Mike O’Brien reported yesterday, “Republicans stand on the cusp of delivering a major blow to organized labor, as they prepare to vote Tuesday on legislation to make Michigan – a state linked to unions in the public conscious – a ‘right to work’ state.” And Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he would sign the legislation into law. The protests have already begun, the Detroit News adds. “Union members turned out early in the morning, dead set on protesting the controversial legislation… At 5 a.m. Tuesday, Michigan Laborers started to unload their supplies for the day. The union came prepared with tents and hand warmers to withstand the chilly 22-degree weather.” But it is worth noting a couple of reasons why labor and Democrats are losing this fight, even in Michigan. For one thing, the Democratic Party isn’t united on this issue; after all, there are several prominent Democratic politicians (Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine come immediately to mind) who hail from right-to-work states. Also, labor lost the framing of this national debate. Despite the merits of compulsory union dues and membership -- if you’re going to receive the benefits from a collective-bargaining agreement, you’ve got to pay the dues -- Republicans and the businesses largely have succeeded in making this about choice.

*** Labor takes another punch: Even though the last few decades generally haven’t been kind to America’s labor movement -- with union participation rates declining -- it still has remained a political force. The unions’ money and ground efforts matter. So, too, do their endorsements in Democratic primaries. But if there’s one theme to the labor battles we’ve seen over the past two years, with the latest one taking place in Michigan, it’s that Republican politicians have been more than willing to punch organized labor in the face, even in its own backyard. Yes, unions have been able to hit back. In 2011, they overturned Ohio’s anti-collective-bargaining effort. And they also were able to recall a handful of GOP state senators in Wisconsin. But they bet big on trying to oust Gov. Scott Walker (R) from office, and they lost.

*** Pyrrhic victories? All that said, it is worth noting that the anti-union efforts and other aggressive actions by the 2010 class of Republican governors -- Florida’s Rick Scott, Ohio’s John Kasich, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker -- have been Pyrrhic victories, at least in the short term. For starters, Obama again won in all of these states in 2012, proving that weakening labor in these states didn’t hurt the Democratic incumbent. Also consider that Kasich and Scott, in particular, aren’t sure bets for re-election in 2014. In fact, while a new Quinnipiac poll shows Kasich’s approval rating to be above water for the first time since taking office, a plurality of voters say he doesn’t deserve a second term in office. But for labor, there’s also no evidence they are going to be able to win this right-to-work battle -- or even future ones. How does labor regroup? Does it decide to concede on things like right-to-work in favor of collective bargaining?

*** Will the RNC’s autopsy satisfy conservatives? The Republican National Committee yesterday launched an effort -- dubbed the "Growth and Opportunity Project" -- to examine what worked and what didn't in the 2012 election. And five Republicans will chair the initiative: RNC member Henry Barbour of Mississippi, RNC member Zori Fonalledas of Puerto Rico, RNC member Glenn McCall of South Carolina, Florida political strategist (and Jeb Bush adviser) Sally Bradshaw, and former Bush 43 White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The question we have is whether this autopsy effort will satisfy conservatives who believe that establishment Republicans are simply making money off the GOP, win or lose. As Breitbart columnist Michael Patrick Leahy recently wrote, “Federal Election Commission reports filed by the Republican National Committee on Thursday show that one-third of the $59.3 million it spent directly with vendors in the last five weeks of the election was paid to one telemarketing firm, FLS Connect, LLC,” which just happens to be co-founded by the RNC’s current chief of staff. Prominent conservative Erick Erickson has made a similar charge. And then there’s question whether these five chairs -- Barbour, Fonalledas, Bradshaw, McCall, Fleischer -- are too establishment. After all, there isn’t a single person from the conservative grassroots here. Say what you want about Howard Dean and the DNC from 2005-2008, but he was willing to break china to fix things. Can the same be said of the current RNC?

*** Haley to hold news conference: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is holding a news conference at noon ET in North Charleston, SC. Per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, Haley isn’t expected to announce her appointment to fill Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate seat. But yesterday, the governor said she WILL NOT appoint a placeholder, saying: "I believe South Carolina will be best served by a U.S. senator who will work hard day in and day out, and put him or herself before the voters at the soonest possible time," Haley said in a statement. "Accordingly, I reject the option of a 'placeholder.'"

*** Meet Sean Patrick Maloney: NBC’s Carrie Dann has profiled 10 new members to watch in the next Congress. Today’s profile: Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY). “A former senior adviser in President Bill Clinton's administration, Sean Patrick Maloney also worked as a staffer for New York governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson before mounting his own political run. Maloney unseated Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth in a New York's redrawn 18th District. The first openly gay New York congressman, Maloney and his partner Randy Florke have three adopted children together. Maloney once told New York Magazine that his hero is fictional lawyer Atticus Finch and came in third in New York's 2006 Democratic primary for attorney general. In addition to his career as a behind-the-scenes political aide, Maloney also made a name at two prestigious New York law firms. He was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP before moving to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.”

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