McConnell Accuses Justice Department of Misleading Congress

1:36. McConnell Accuses Justice Department of Misleading Congress

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added his voice to a growing chorus of Republicans who charge the Justice Department with misleading Congress on key details surrounding Operation Fast and Furious.

The operation was a secret program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that allowed weapons to fall into the hands of drug cartels in Mexico, in hopes that they could be traced. Some of the weapons were found at the crime scene in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in Arizona.

At a House hearing last week, Republican lawmakers accused Attorney General Eric Holder of withholding key evidence in the case, such as emails, and of heavily redacting the documents it did provide. Despite Holder’s contention that he is awaiting the results of an Inspector General’s investigation into the case before handing over some documents, Rep., Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, threatened possible impeachment proceedings, though he declined to specify against whom.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, added to the rhetorical pressure on the Justice Department on Sunday. “We do believe [the Justice Department] is misleading Congress. I don’t know what they are hiding, but we have asked for information, and they are stonewalling us,” McConnell said on Fox News Sunday.

When asked whether the Justice Department was knowingly misleading Congress, and whether he would call for resignations, McConnell was noncommittal. “I’m not calling on any one’s resignation today, but I am calling on them to be more forthcoming with strait answers,” he said. “I don’t know if its `knowingly,’ or not, but I don’t believe they have been particularly truthful to Congress.

“I know that [Justice Criminal Division head Lanny Brueur] has misled Congress,” he said. “So what are they hiding? I understand this might be embarrassing, but misleading Congress is not the way to go.”
--James Kitfield 

12:23. Lawmakers Confident of Ending Payroll Tax Impasse

With Congress poised to leave a chunk of coal in the Christmas stockings of 160 million U.S. taxpayers, there are signs that the impasse over extending the current payroll-tax rate one year may be broken. Before a deal can be reached, however, both sides still feel the need to posture on behalf of their favored solution for extending a tax break that put an average of $1,000 into the pocket of each American family last year.

“I believe we should extend the payroll tax holiday for another year, and we believe we have a balanced package that can pass the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, speaking on Fox News Sunday.

He was referring to a bill filed by House Republicans Friday that would extend the current payroll-tax rate for one year, continue unemployment benefits, and prevent a scheduled cut in Medical physician reimbursements. The cost of the House bill would be offset by spending cuts unpopular with many Democrats, however, and includes “sweeteners” for conservatives such as a green light for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline opposed by many environmental groups.

When asked whether a deal can be reached despite President Obama’s promise to veto a bill that includes the Keystone provisions, McConnell was unequivocal. “Yes, but it also has to have something that creates jobs.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press, assistant Senate majority leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, insisted that Democrats were sticking with their proposal to pay for the tax holiday with a surcharge on millionaires that is anathema to Republicans.

“The payroll tax extension is the highest priority for Democrats, because we’re talking about a payroll tax cut of $1,000 a year for 160 million people,” he said. “[President Obama] is right that this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, yet Republicans have consistently refused to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans even if that’s what it takes to make sure working families get a payroll tax cut.”

Despite the familiar partisan brinksmanship that has defined the current Congress, lawmakers’ confidence that a deal will ultimately be struck suggests a realization that a whopping tax hike for voters just in time for the holidays would likely bring down a pox on both parties.

“At the end of the day, the payroll tax cut will be extended and we’ll find a way to pay for it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., appearing on Meet the Press. “The idea of taxing one group to pay for another’s tax cut won’t sell, but neither probably will the Keystone pipeline.”

--James Kitfield

12:13. Huntsman Says He’s Moving Up in NH

Jon Huntsman, the only major Republican candidate not on the stage at Saturday's debate, said on Sunday, “I do believe that we're going to move up right toward the top of the pack.”

Attending town hall meetings in New Hampshire, where his campaign has focused its energy, while the rest of the field debated in Iowa, Huntsman said he feels good about his campaign’s trajectory in New Hampshire despite polls showing that other candidates are leading.

“I can feel it on the ground,” he told ABC’s This Week. “I have a very good visceral sense of where this campaign is going. We're going to surprise and upend conventional wisdom. I can tell you that right now.”

--Glen Justice 

11:07. Bachmann Keeps Up Attacks on ‘Newt-Romney’

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose aggressive debate performance Saturday was widely praised, kept up her attacks on Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on Sunday, saying, “It’s very clear there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two of them.”

Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, she referred to Gingrich as the “consummate establishment insider,” and “the king of K Street.” She called Romney, “the big government candidate.”

“That’s not what we want in our nominee,” she said. “It doesn’t even survive the falling off your chair laughing test.”

Referencing her opposition to President Obama’s policies, Bachmann referred to herself as “the tip of the spear” and said she has been “tested by fire in the lion’s den of Washington DC.”

--Glen Justice

10:23. Perry ‘Taken Aback’ By Romney’s Bet

In last night’s Republican candidate debate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney handed Texas Governor Rick Perry a talking point, proposing a $10,000 bet to settle a dispute over his record in what amounted to a schoolyard taunt.  This morning found Perry in the unusual position of focusing on another candidate’s gaffe, and he used the incident to paint Romney as out of touch with economically strapped Iowans.

“I was a little taken aback [by the exchange], because I’m pretty sure that coming to the studio this morning I didn’t drive by any houses where people thought a $10,000 bet was even possible, so I think he’s out of touch with normal Iowa citizens,” Perry said on Fox News Sunday.

On the issue at the center of last night’s exchange – whether Romney initially advocated that the individual mandate at the center of Massachusetts’ health care law was a model for the country – Perry did not back down. “Mitt can deny it as many times as wants, but in his first book he clearly stated that [the individual mandate] should be model for country. He took that out in the paperback. That’s a fact, and even a $10,000 bet won’t cover it.”

--James Kitfield

10:02. Postmaster General Defends His Plan

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, whose plans to cut services and close facilities in order to trim expenses have drawn some shouts in Washington, defended his strategy on Sunday.

Donahoe said that the U.S. Postal Service, which is not taxpayer funded, has seen the volume of mail drop by 25 percent in recent years, thanks to competitors and technology like online bill paying services and email.

“What we need to do, like any other responsible business, is to cut costs in order to get our finances back in order,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.

--Glen Justice 

9:34. Santurum Takes on Gingrich, Obama

One day after praising Newt Gingrich as an early inspiration in his political career on the stage at a debate in Iowa, former Sen. Rick Santorum sought to draw sharp contrasts between his leadership and that of the former House Speaker.

Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania, praised his own accomplishments in the Senate and questioned Gingrich’s management while in Congress.

“Three years into his speakership, there was a conservative revolution to try to get rid of him as Speaker,” Santorum said on CNN’s State of the Union. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

Santorum also attacked President Obama, accusing him of pursuing policies of appeasement in countries like Syria and Iran, a view that many Democrats – including Obama himself – would challenge given the president’s record on foreign policy and terrorism, which is highlighted by the assassination Osama bin Laden.

“At every single turn, the president has appeased those who would do us harm,” Santorum said.

--Glen Justice

8:44. Rep. Israel: House Republicans are 'Radioactive'

Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Sunday that Democrats have a strong chance of retaking the House in next year's election.

Israel, whose job at the DCCC is to raise money and recruit candidates, said Democrats must pick up 25 seats to win back the House, and that they consider 70 seats in play. "It's going to be razor close," he said, speaking on Bloomberg’s Political Capital.

The New York congressman said that House Republicans’ stance on issues such as a payroll tax cut will help Democrats win, quipping that, "Only the House Republicans would decide to load a middle class tax cut with pork." He rejected the idea that President Obama’s approval ratings will drag on Democratic campaigns.

“They are radioactive,” Israel said of House Republicans. “There is a strong sense of buyer’s remorse.”

--Glen Justice