By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
President Obama is already well on his way to getting a lot of what he wanted during the lame duck session of Congress -- a feat that, as we noted last week, has earned him the “Comeback Kid” label in some quarters. But what about the rest of Washington?
We’ve been doing some year-end score keeping and here’s how we see the lay of the land:
Liberal Groups: Activists on the left helped successfully push the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but their advocacy against the tax cut compromise plan fell flat. Will they go after the “appeasers” in the House and Senate who voted for the bill?
And don’t forget about what the left sees as Democratic capitulation on another element of the Obama -- the DREAM Act, which would have offered a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Liberals like Markos Moulitsas of the DailyKos are already seething at Montana Democratic Sen. John Tester, who is up for re-election in 2012, for voting against it. “To me, he is the Blanche Lincoln of 2012 -- the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat,” Kos wrote over the weekend. “And he will." http://bit.ly/dX7r5T
The Tea Party: This loosely-knit, but powerful political force in 2010 has largely been silent during the closing days of this year’s legislative session. Are they just waiting for the GOP to take power in the House and for more of their stalwart supporters to be sworn into the Senate? The Tea Party has lacked both a public face and an organizational structure. And the absence of a real legislative agenda suggests they may have less impact in 2011.
Moderates: Remember how they were “dead” after the midterms? Not so much. There was no way that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the passage of the tax bill would have happened without them. Meanwhile, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Ma., who cast a key vote in favor of repealing DADT, is making it hard for Democrats to build a case against him for 2012.
Nancy Pelosi: Our big question about outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is: Where has she been? And others are asking the same thing. A headline in the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones today reads: “Pelosi Goes AWOL.” Writes, Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm: “In the final stretch, Pelosi and her deputies seemed disconnected from their Democratic comrades.” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has been one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, was a public face of House Democrats on taxes -- will he do more in 2012 -- and will the former House Speaker stay in the shadows?
Mitch McConnell: The Senate Minority Leader lost on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but, so far, he’s keeping his team together on the START. “I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. But, what happens when Tea Party favorites like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio come to town?
“It’s going to be a question of how seriously does the Republican leadership take the power base that's now taking their seats in Congress in January,” Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler told ABC News’ Huma Khan. “If they take it seriously and if they govern according to the mandate that the American people have given them, then I think it'll be fine. If they don't, then you're going to see a lot of in-fighting. You're going to see freshmen who are putting up a serious fight and ultimately you will see a bit more house cleaning in 2012.” http://abcn.ws/eL3FUa
PUSHING THEIR START BUTTONS. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rolled out what he hopes will be a hard-line, either-your-with-us-or-you’re-against-us, message on ratification of the new START arms reduction treaty. “After months of consideration and five days of open and robust debate, it is time to move forward on a treaty that will help reverse nuclear proliferation and make it harder for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon,” Reid said yesterday. “As we move ahead, I look forward to continuing to debate amendments. But soon this will come down to a simple choice: you either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don’t.”
But do Democrats have the votes? Politico’s Scott Wong breaks it down: “Senate Democrats appear to have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster … though it’s unclear if they will have the 67 votes needed for ratification. At least four Republicans have committed to supporting the U.S.-Russia treaty or are leaning that way, including two who say they will vote for cloture. If Democrats can hold their 58-member caucus together, that would likely put them at or over the 60-vote threshold required to end debate on the treaty and move forward.” The Senate will resume debate on START today, heading into closed session this afternoon to discuss classified information relating to the treaty. http://politi.co/hFMT2R
ACTION ON THE HILL. ABC’s Matthew Jaffe provides some intel on the week-ahead on Capitol Hill: The key days will come later this week. Tomorrow, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on START and another procedural vote on continuing resolution to fund the government that runs until March 4. (Both will need 60 votes to advance and both are expected to do so.) A final vote on START ratification could come Tuesday if Republicans do not force the 30 hours of post-cloture debate, but aides say it is more likely to come Wednesday. After START, the Senate is going to take up the 9/11 health bill that is expected to pass now some GOP's concerns have been resolved. Once that's out of the way, lawmakers should be able to head home for the holidays around midweek.
BOTTOM LINE: Ultimately, no matter what happens this week, the lame-duck has been anything but lame. They've passed the tax compromise, the “Don't Ask Don't Tell” repeal, the food safety bill. And this week they could add the START pact and the 9/11 health bill to that list, too. Not too shabby.
And as ABC’s Rick Klein notes, “perhaps the only major political figure who can plausibly claim victory in all of the major areas is President Obama. It will get harder from here, but the seeds of a political comeback -- or, at least, the suggestion that such a comeback is possible -- have been planted in the interim period before Republicans take over the House.” http://abcn.ws/ffky4r
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Amy Walter weigh in on the lame duck legislative session and the unfinished business yet to come this week. They also have a conversation with the National Journal’s Major Garrett, who will bring his political insights to “Top Line.” Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
WASTE BASKET. “Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) accused the government of $11.5 billion in waste this past year in his annual ‘Wastebook’ report released Monday,” The Hill’s Michael O’Brien reports. “Coburn, a longtime fiscal hawk, detailed 100 spending projects from the past year that he said constituted government waste that contributed to record deficits in the past year. … The Oklahoma conservative's report identifies a number of spending projects, some of which were funded by earmarks sought by lawmakers for home state and district projects.” http://bit.ly/fToO4f
SCHUMER’S SCALPEL. “You can’t just use a meat axe, you have to use a scalpel,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said of efforts by Republicans to cut government waste in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. Schumer also expressed confidence that the 9/11 responders bill would be passed. “It’s not too late,” Schumer said, but he warned without decisive Congressional action, “thousands will die because they didn’t get adequate medical care.” http://abcn.ws/hkJsJb
ANOTHER IOWA NEW YEAR’S? As 2012 nears, the political class is united with one holiday wish: Please don’t make us spend New Year’s Eve in Iowa like we did in 2008,” Politico’s Molly Ball reports. “The leadership in both parties is listening. In the hopes of stopping the madness of ever-earlier presidential primaries, Democrats and Republicans have tried to set forth a primary that doesn't get under way until February 2012, remains competitive through March and finishes cleanly. But while they are optimistic, it remains to be seen whether they've truly succeeded in preventing rogue states from pushing the primary calendar into January or even earlier.” http://politi.co/g37ngw
@ larrysabato: For 1st time since 1870, there are now more R than D state legislators in SOUTH.
@ HotlineReid: Cao: "I've nudged the president that I'd like to be ambassador to Vietnam. He has not responded."
* Get The Note delivered to your inbox every day.