Today, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to direct the CIA, since the previous director made a sudden departure (note to prospective Brennan biographers: Watch your step), but the other appointment, of former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, is what got all the attention. Republicans dutifully trooped to the cable cameras to say somberly that they are "troubled" and "concerned" by Hagel's nomination. Though Hagel was once their esteemed colleague, he made them very angry by turning against the Iraq War after having voted for it in the first place. Because, as they will tell you, the war went swimmingly, and anyone who fails to understand that may not have the judgment to lead the Pentagon.
Liberals felt rightfully disgruntled with the president's capitulations during fiscal-cliff negotiations. Obama abandoned his hard-line stance that tax rates must be increased on incomes over $250,000. Instead the deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for the vast majority of the country, with rates only rising for individuals earning over $400,000—hardly a sensible definition of the middle class. Yet as he gave up his leverage on automatic tax hikes, Obama's compromise bill punted the sequestration cuts until March 1 and left the necessary hike of the debt ceiling as a lingering threat for the nihilistic House Republicans to exploit for further cuts to discretionary spending.
The last month has not been good to John Boehner. His attempt to circumvent President Obama and gain leverage over congressional Democrats with a “Plan B” on the fiscal cliff was foiled by House Republicans, and when it came time to pass the deal crafted by the Senate, he had to rely on Democratic votes—only 85 members of his conference voted for the agreement.
On top of that, he’s had to worry about power grabs from his right (Eric Cantor), discontent from the membership, and constant criticism from everyone else. Just yesterday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie went on a rampage, attacking the House Speaker for failing to bring a bill offering aid to Hurricane Sandy victims to the floor for a vote.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie has never been one to mince words—he became a conservative heartthrob during his first gubernatorial campaign thanks to a string of anti-union screeds that made the rounds on YouTube. But on Wednesday, Christie took aim at his fellow Republicans for their failure to pass a relief bill for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker John Boehner,” Christie said during a press conference today. Boehner had promised to introduce the bill following the fiscal-cliff impasse but adjourned the House Tuesday night without offering a vote.
Barack Obama doesn't do many press conferences, so when he came into the White House briefing room today it was because he had something important to say. Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be heading a task force, or perhaps a working group—whatever you're going to call it, don't call it a commission ("This is not some Washington commission," Obama said)–to figure out just what can be done to reduce gun violence. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try."