WASHINGTON -- The sense of frustration among Senate Democrats over the White House's handling of the tax cut debate has grown throughout the week, culminating in a series of articles on Thursday anticipating some form of presidential capitulation.
Whether the mood is genuine or deliberate -- or, perhaps, a bit of both -- is worth some honest debate. Aides acknowledged that they were airing concerns about a forthcoming tax cut deal, in part, for the purpose of stiffening the White House's spine during the remaining negotiations. None would take the step of going on the record with their remarks. But others were even blunter when they went completely off the record.
When leaving a Senate Democratic caucus meeting late Thursday night, most members declined to answer questions about the White House's role in the tax cut negotiations. But the few who did talk didn't exactly hide their sadness over the state of affairs.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), for one, slyly acknowledged that he'd get himself in trouble if he answered whether or not he was happy with the administration's engagement.
"You want me to be the [troublemaker]?... I'm too junior around here to do that," said the 86-year-old, five-term senator.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) did a little less dancing. "I just think, if [Obama] caves on this, then I think that he's gonna have a lot of swimming upstream [to do]," said the Iowa Democrat, a unabashed progressive who has been less reticent than most in criticizing the White House. "He campaigned on [allowing the rates for the rich to expire], was very strong on that, and sometimes there are things that are just worth fighting for."
And if he decided to compromise away from that, a reporter asked the senator.
"He would then just be hoping and praying that Sarah Palin gets the nomination," Harkin replied, insinuating that there would be few other Republicans that Obama could assuredly beat in 2012.
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