How The GOP Scrambled For Damage Control After Boehner’s Big Reveal On Tax Cuts

September 14, 2010 8:45 a.m.

Democrats are calling it a game-changer that might just save their butts in November. Republicans are shouting loudly from the rooftops they want the Bush-era tax cuts to be made permanent and that they think that means they will win this fall.

Whichever happens on Nov. 2, it all started with Minority Leader John Boehner’s surprise embrace for President Obama’s tax-cut plan. Boehner said if it was the only option presented to his party, he’d support Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats in voting for an extension of the tax cuts for the middle class only.

Republicans are being very coy about blasting Boehner (R-OH) openly just as the Democrats are reminding the nation that he wants to be speaker of the House should the GOP win back control. But reading between the lines of their actions, it’s pretty clear that few of his colleagues agree with Boehner. Could it spell trouble for the GOP?

Let’s roll tape.Friday, 11:30 a.m.: Obama tells reporters during a press conference the GOP should compromise and support the middle class tax cuts, leaving room to negotiate for the others down the line.

Saturday: Boehner tapes an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” from Ohio. “If the only option I have is to vote for those at $250 and below, of course I’m going to do that. But I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans,” he says.

Sunday, 9:02 a.m.: Mike Allen writes about the exchange in Politico‘s Playbook. He includes some context from a Boehner aide:

Despite what Obama says, Republicans are not holding middle-class tax cuts hostage and we’re not going to let him get away with those types of false claims. Our focus remains on getting bipartisan support for a freeze on all current rates, because that is what is best for the economy and small business job creation. Boehner’s words were calculated to deprive Obama of the ability to continue making those false claims, and as a result we are in a better position rhetorically to pressure more Democrats to support a full freeze.

10:30 a.m.: “Face the Nation” airs in Washington.

11 a.m.: Emails start pouring in from operatives on both sides, saying it was a turning point before the elections.

Midday: At the 9/12 rally in Washington, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-IN), a 2012 hopeful, makes it clear he doesn’t agree with Boehner. “We do not consent to higher taxes on any American in the worst economy in 25 years. … [W]e will not compromise our economy to accommodate the class warfare rhetoric of the American left or this administration.”

5:30 p.m.: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issues a statement, welcoming Boehner’s turnabout.

6:33 p.m.: Boehner issues a statement, walking it back and saying that raising taxes is “the exact wrong thing to do.”

If the president is serious about job creation, there’s a clear way forward, and that’s for us to come together and pass legislation immediately that cuts spending to 2008 levels for the next year and stops all of the coming tax hikes by freezing all current tax rates for the next two years. Anything short of that may selfishly check a political box for the president, but it fails the American people.

Instead of resorting to tired old class warfare rhetoric, pitting one working American against another, the president and the Democratic leadership should start working with us this week to ensure a fair and open debate to pass legislation to cut spending and freeze tax rates without any further delay.

Monday, 7 a.m.: Gibbs does all the morning shows to drive the point home. Democrats start sending around stories about GOP divisions.

10:29 a.m.: Boehner’s Deputy Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) calls for a vote on extending all of the Bush tax cuts. He repeats the message throughout the day.

2:30 p.m.: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hastily introduces a bill freezing the tax rates at their current level as the Senate comes back to work.

1 p.m.: As promised, Obama goes on the attack in a talk with voters in Fairfax, Virginia. He says Boehner and McConnell are in a “wrestling match” over what to do.

4:49 p.m.: The GOP starts a Twitter war, with Republicans backing up their leader by re-tweeting a Boehner tweet at Gibbs:

Attn @presssec: Republicans are unified: to boost our economy, we need to stop ALL tax hikes and cut spending now

5:29 p.m.: Rep. Paul Ryan, like Cantor a GOP “Young Gun,” says in an interview with Sean Hannity there should be no mistake, the Republicans want a “full, complete extension” of the tax cuts.

5:30 p.m.: Obama Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer stokes the flames on the White House blog.

5:59 p.m.: Boehner spokesman Michael Steel responds to Pfeiffer: “Folks – Despite the White House’s fervent hopes, there is zero daylight between Republicans on stopping all the tax hikes.”

6:15 p.m.: Democrats seem to be split on how best to exploit the divisions.

Tuesday, 7:15 a.m.: Cantor and Ryan appear on NBC’s “The Today Show” to promote their new book about the Young Guns in the party. They each repeat their support for full extension of the tax cuts.

Cantor highlights that he thinks Americans don’t want to see tax increases in a recession, backpedaling on Boehner’s behalf: “I think that’s what John Boehner was trying to say. And the Republican position has always been and will be — we don’t believe there ought to be tax hikes.”

9:20 a.m.: Boehner’s office makes sure reporters notice a quote from Rep. Chris Van Hollen, suggesting there are splits within the Democratic party, too.

9:45 a.m.: McConnell appears on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.” He refuses to engage in what he calls the “hypothetical” question that snagged Boehner on Sunday.

“I’m not going to answer all these hypotheticals,” said McConnell (R-KY), adding that the GOP “ought to be fighting for a permanent extension.”

“The reason they want to have it now – they think it’s a good political debate for them. We’re happy to have this debate. We think most Americans think it’s a bad idea to be raising taxes on anybody in the middle of a recession,” McConnell said.

Now that Congress is back in action, pay careful attention to the language from Boehner’s troops. The rank-and-file are unlikely to gripe to reporters that they aren’t pleased with their leader’s big reveal. But how forcefully will they compensate for Boehner being seen suddenly as agreeing with Pelosi?

Additional reporting by Jon Terbush and Elizabeth Harrison

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