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Shields and Gerson on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 21, 2012

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

David Brooks is off tonight.

Gentlemen, it's good to have you with us.

MARK SHIELDS: Good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, the fiscal cliff, it's still with us. It's still out there. The president made a last-minute statement late this afternoon. Where does everything stand?

MARK SHIELDS: Nobody knows, Judy.

What happened last night in the Republican Caucus is precedent-shattering. I mean, it really is, that John Boehner could not get a majority of his own caucus to support what had become the Republican position, endorsed not simply by him, but by Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

And it's a real problem. I think it puts at risk Boehner's own leadership and his ability to deliver Republicans. It weakens the bargaining position for Republicans in the final negotiations. But I don't know how much closer we are, because I think it strengthens the liberals in the Democratic Caucus, which is going to make it tougher for the Republicans to accept it, because a weakened Republican means a strengthened, emboldened Democratic liberal group.

And I just think that there's too many moving parts at this point to say, this is what is going to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you -- what do you -- can it get done, Michael? I mean, it's. . .

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I generally agree with Mark.

And today was supposed to be the end of the world. I think it feels like it for Boehner. This is a case where he ended up with 40 to 50 members of his caucus that wouldn't support anything on this.

MICHAEL GERSON: And they were to the right of Grover Norquist. Norquist was open to the Plan B.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he had endorsed Plan B.

MICHAEL GERSON: Right, exactly. So, they want to go off the cliff flags flying. It marginalized Boehner and the Republicans in future negotiations, and raised a question of whether anyone can get a governing majority in the House of Representatives when it comes to the budget.

Those are really serious matters. Now, it does go to the Senate, where Harry Reid and McConnell can try to come to some, you know, functional surrender for Republicans on rates, and kick the can on a lot of other issues, and see if that can pass in the next 10 days.

But that still would pass -- have to pass the House. And so I think the chances of backing off, off the cliff are higher than they ever have been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, I listened to some of these recalcitrant House Republicans today, Mark. And they were saying, I was not going to vote for a tax increase, when my constituents would never have gone along with that.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there's two realities, here, Judy.

First of all, there's a lot of Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, who are terrified of one thing. That's being primaried, a primary opponent who is going to run on your right if you are a Republican, on your left if you are a Democrat. But it's really become a problem for Republicans, because this has been an article of faith that -- said before it is since 1990 that any Republican in the House or the Senate has voted for a tax increase on Capitol Hill, any Republican.

Now, of the 241 Republicans now in the House, 212 of them have come to the Congress since 1990. So, they have never voted for a tax increase. They don't know anybody who has voted for a tax increase. And they were being asked to vote for a tax increase for a tactical advantage on a piece of legislation that they knew the president, A., would veto, B., wouldn't pass the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Only on people earning over a million.

MARK SHIELDS: A million dollars, but they were going to give up their virginity, their political virginity, and risk a primary challenge -- that is how they saw it -- by doing this.

What they failed to address is the reality that, when you are the -- part of the governing party in any institution, the House, the Senate, anyplace else, you have a responsibility to make sure that you can govern. And what they did was, they robbed the Republicans, that 40 to 50. They robbed the Republicans of that -- that sense of leadership, of governability, and robbed them, I think, and reduced the brand of the Republican Party even more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it a fundamental disagreement over what governing is?

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes, I think that that is part of it.

I think what they couldn't answer is how they are going to get a better result. . .

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

MICHAEL GERSON: . . . after you -- when you go over the cliff, or later on in these negotiations, because they're not. This actually undermines their negotiating power and position, which -- because it is a foolish position to be in.

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