After the election

Speaker gives House GOP a shove In Cabinet shuffle, Rice, Lew top picks

Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer Bulletin wire reports / New York Times News Service /

WASHINGTON — On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party’s electoral battering last week, Speaker John Boehner dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose.

Their party lost badly, Boehner said, and while Republicans would continue to control the House and staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years.

Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support — even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker’s side.

It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt.

With the president re-elected and Democrats cementing their control of the Senate, Boehner will need to capitalize on the chastened faction of the House GOP that wants to cut a deal to avert sudden tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in January that could send the nation’s economy back into recession. After spending two years marooned between the will of his loud and fractious members and the Democratic Senate majority, the speaker is trying to assert control, and many members seem for now to be offering their support.

“To have a voice at the bargaining table, John Boehner has to be strong,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, one of the speaker’s lieutenants. Aides say this is an altered political landscape that Boehner did not expect. As a result, whether the nation can avoid the so-called fiscal cliff will depend not only on whether Boehner can find common cause with a newly re-elected, invigorated Barack Obama, but also whether he can deliver his own caucus.

The divide between Obama and Boehner appears wide. In their Saturday addresses, the president demanded immediate passage of a bill approved by the Senate that would extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000, while Boehner said raising tax rates on anyone would be unacceptable.

But beneath the posturing, both men were keeping open avenues of negotiation. Obama was careful to call for more revenue, not higher tax rates, a demand that could be met by limiting tax deductions and credits, a path Boehner has accepted.

Final election result: Florida stays blue

The last state in the 2012 presidential race has been called, with Florida going narrowly to the president. The win means Barack Obama swept all of the most competitive states except North Carolina, and he walks away with a huge Electoral College win — 332 to 206 — despite carrying the popular vote by just 2.6 percent. (In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral votes.)

Florida is the biggest swing-state prize, with 29 electoral votes.Obama won the state 50 to 49.1 percent. Had the margin been within half a percentage point, it would have triggered a computer recount.

— From wire reports

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is emerging as the favored candidate to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even with the political controversy over her remarks about the fatal attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, being related to an anti-Islam video.

Six officials, insisting on anonymity, said Rice remains close to President Barack Obama and shares many of his views on foreign policy. They emphasized that the president hasn’t made a final decision, and Clinton may remain in her post for some months into Obama’s second term.

Officials said Obama’s first move will be choosing a successor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He also may need to find successors to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the officials said.

Rice is thought to be the president’s preferred choice at State over two other strong candidates, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, according to the current and former administration officials.

Experts say the new Treasury secretary must bring sufficient clout to Capitol Hill to push through budget and tax deals, and enough stature to calm financial markets should they begin to melt down again. The name most discussed as Obama’s pick is Jack Lew, currently his chief of staff and a longtime Washington insider. Erskine Bowles, the former Bill Clinton aide who was co-chair of the president’s debt and deficit, commission is also mentioned.

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