Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Sequester Day caps off an absurd week

It’s Sequester Day, and what an absurd week it’s been… The GOP’s mixed message: Some in the party are denouncing the cuts, while others are cheering them on… What happens next? Folks, Bill Bolling WANTS to run in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest… This week’s 2016 news… Newsy nuggets from our NBC/WSJ poll… And Romney on the rollercoaster -- of 2012.

Both the Senate and the House are in recess, so the sequester will take effect. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Sequester Day (and an absurd week): As the automatic across-the-board spending cuts are set to take effect today and as President Obama meets at the White House with congressional leaders, we have to get this off our chest: This has been an absurd week. Today’s White House meeting is coming only at the last second; there’s been no sense of urgency, no negotiating, and Congress has left town; and, when you think about it, this hasn’t even been a true budget showdown. Given the lack of urgency and negotiating, it’s hard not to conclude that -- deep down -- plenty of folks on both sides of the aisle are OK with having these cuts take place, at least in the short term. Yes, both sides are kicking and screaming publicly. And, yes, these cuts will impact people’s livelihoods. But if you’re a Republican who wants to cut spending, you’re getting your spending cuts. And if you’re a Democrat who either wants to reduce defense spending or ensure that all of the cuts aren’t targeted only at social programs, you’re getting your wish. This is perhaps the biggest reason why these cuts are going into effect: At the end of the day, they were better than the alternative (for Republicans, raising taxes and eliminating loopholes; for Democrats, having these spending cuts come exclusively from social spending).

*** When actions don’t meet words: The most important message the White House and some congressional Republicans seemed intent on sending this week is that they don’t like these spending cuts -- these are bad spending cuts. But their ACTIONS did not meet their WORDS. A conspiracy theorist might conclude that politicians want the cuts to go through while not getting blamed for them.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Flanked by Democratic Women House members, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference Feb. 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill. Pelosi held a news conference to discuss the sequester.

*** The GOP’s mixed message on the sequester: All that said, Democrats are at least on message that these sequester cuts are bad. The same isn’t true of Republicans, who seem to be divided on whether these cuts are something to complain about or something to cheer. On the one hand, the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams have warned about the defense-spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner even seemed to share that opinion in last week’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, writing that the cuts threaten “U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.” On the other hand, other Republicans are already celebrating these cuts -- as well as House GOP leaders’ refusal to negotiate. “I think Friday will be an important day that shows we’re finally willing to stand and fight for conservative principles and force Washington to start living within its means,” GOP Rep. Steve Scalise told the New York Times. “And that will be a big victory.” Added GOP Rep. Jim Jordan: “If, in fact, we’re going to scale back discretionary spending by $85 billion, tell me when that’s ever happened before.” Senate Republicans, in fact, were so divided on the sequester that they couldn’t get more than 38 votes for their proposal to replace it. In the PR battle over the sequester, the GOP’s muddled message matters. Even if both sides are OK with letting these cuts go into effect, one side is unified that the cuts are bad; the other side seems to be sort of cheering them on.

$85 billion dollars is supposed to be cut from the budget Friday. As lawmakers point fingers, some are already feeling the pinch. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

*** And the GOP’s unified message on taxes: But the GOP has had this one unified message: They’re not going to consider raising any more additional revenue through closing tax loopholes (even though they more than put that on the table during the fiscal-cliff negotiations). Here’s Mitch McConnell’s statement going into today’s White House meeting: “I’m happy to discuss other ideas to keep our commitment to reducing Washington spending at today’s meeting. But there will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes.”

*** So what happens next? There’s a running theory on the Hill and even in the West Wing that negotiations over the budget resolution, which expires at the end of March, will be an opportunity to “fix” or turn off the sequester. But don’t be surprised if that deadline comes and goes without sequester being touched. Will the White House or Senate Democrats threaten government shutdown over the sequester? That’s about what it would take to force sequester into the Continuing Resolution talks. Hard to imagine the president staking out THAT position. The next trigger point after the C.R. is the debt ceiling in May. A consensus within the GOP these days is that debt ceiling standoffs are not good politics for them, so that could come and go without dealing with sequester. The White House view on sequester: use the bully pulpit to try and get the public to blame the GOP for anything they don’t like that suddenly happens (longer lines, cuts in services, etc.). The White House continues to hang their hat on a strategy of “hope” -- hoping the GOP caves via public pressure and displeasure. But it’s hard to imagine either Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn or John Boehner agreeing to turn off sequester in exchange for any taxes -- all of them would be watching their political careers flash before their eyes if they do. Chew on this: Is there’s a greater chance sequester is the law of the land for the rest of the year than there is a chance for it to get “turned off” or re-negotiated. Happy Friday!

*** Folks, Bolling wants to run: In Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial contest, it’s looking more and more likely that Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will run as an independent. “Bolling is considering whether to return to the Virginia governor’s race as an independent, and he’s asking for a little help from his friends to make his decision,” the Washington Post writes. “In a letter e-mailed Thursday, Bolling (R) tells supporters that he thinks ‘there is an opportunity to make history in Virginia this year.’ ‘We can send a message about the need to return more civility and a more mainstream approach to politics and governing,’ the message reads. ‘I know it won’t be easy to win the governorship as an Independent candidate, but with your help I believe it can be done.’” The Post adds that Bolling is expected to announce his ultimate decision by March 14. Our take: This is someone who is trying to find a way to run. And if Bolling does get into the race, that will more than shake up this contest.

*** This week’s 2016 news: Here’s our new Friday look at some of this week’s developments in the VERY EARLY 2016 race: Chris Christie wasn’t invited to CPAC (as we reported last week and this week)… New York Rep. Peter King (R), still smarting after Rubio voted against Sandy funding, “could barely contain himself after learning that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been fundraising in New York after voting against federal funding for Hurricane Sandy victims,” the New York Daily News writes… The nation’s governors were in DC, including potential 2016 hopeful Bobby Jindal, who blasted President Obama saying that the president needed to “show leadership” on the sequester fight and accused him of continuing to “campaign”…  Bob McDonnell drew fire from conservatives for his transportation plan that raises revenue. Erick Erickson called him “pathetic” and a “liar.” But McDonnell said it shows he’s willing to fix problems – something he was happy to tout on The Daily Rundown… Hillary Clinton’s upcoming memoir is expected to grab a hefty advance, Buzzfeed wrote… And Rick Perry, who’s still entertaining notions of running in 2016, jabbed at Democrats (and Longhorn fans) by telling the Wall Street Journal: “The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue.”

*** Newsy nuggets from our NBC/WSJ poll: While we’ve already covered many of the major topline numbers from our most recent poll, here are some other interesting numbers: Chuck Hagel’s fav/unfav among Republicans -- remember he was a former GOP senator -- is just 1%/32% vs. 22%-6% among Democrats… Despite its current financial problems, the U.S. Postal Service is more popular (a 60%/13% fav/unfav) than Pope Benedict XVI (30%-17%)… And the only demographic group with a positive view of the Republican Party: white southerners, who give the GOP a 39%/35% fav/unfav.

*** Rollercoaster … of love: And in his first interview since losing last year’s presidential contest, Mitt Romney likened his bid to a rollercoaster ride, according to excerpts of the FOX interview that will air on Sunday. “We were on a rollercoaster, exciting and thrilling, ups and downs. But the ride ends," Romney said, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. "And then you get off. And it's not like, ‘Oh, can't we be on a roller coaster the rest of our life?’ It's like, no, the ride's over." His wife, Ann, added: “It is an adjustment, but it’s one I think we did well,” said Ann Romney. She added, “The good news is fortunately we like each other.”

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