At the top of Wednesday's CBS Early Show, fill-in co-host Erica Hill fretted over Republicans pledging to focus solely on economic issues in the lame duck session of Congress: "Gridlock alert. Just one day after promising to work together while meeting with President Obama, GOP leaders may now put a halt on cooperating with Democrats on Capitol Hill. So will Washington find itself at a standstill?"
Moments later, co-host Harry Smith lamented how "the spirit of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats after yesterday's White House summit seemed to fade quickly." In the report that followed, senior White House correspondent Bill Plante solely blamed the GOP for the division: "There are new questions this morning about just how sincere the spirit of cooperation in Washington really is. CBS News has confirmed that Senate Republicans have collected signatures on a letter which pledges to block everything unrelated to tax cuts and spending during the lame duck congress."
On Tuesday, Plante declared that Republicans "seemed in no mood to compromise" and that their rescheduling of the White House meeting was an intentional "rebuff" to President Obama.
After Plante's Wednesday report, Smith interviewed White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and asked about the Republican pledge being an obstacle of ratifying a nuclear arms treaty with Russia: "Well even as the summit was taking place yesterday, Senate Republicans have been circulating, basically, a pledge that says, 'We are not – we are going to block every piece of legislation that comes our way unless it's related to tax cuts or government spending'...do you think the START treaty could get done, especially in light of this pledge that all the Republican senators are signing?"
Here is a full transcript of Plante's December 1 report and Smith's interview with Gibbs:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
ERICA HILL: Gridlock alert. Just one day after promising to work together while meeting with President Obama, GOP leaders may now put a halt on cooperating with Democrats on Capitol Hill. So will Washington find itself at a standstill? We'll ask White house Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
7:01AM ET SEGMENT:
SMITH: First, though, we want to get to the spirit of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats after yesterday's White House summit, seemed to fade quickly. Now it appears to be back to business as usual. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has the latest. Bill, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: White House Summit; Obama Faces Gridlock Despite Meeting With GOP]
BILL PLANTE: Good morning to you, Harry. Well, talks start today between the administration and members of Congress on trying to reach a deal on how to extend the Bush tax cuts for everybody or just for the middle class, depends on which way you want to go. This after the first time the President met with Republicans who will be in charge of Congress before they take charge. The White House meeting was long on talk of working together but short on actual progress.
BARACK OBAMA: The beginning of a new dialogue.
JOHN BOEHNER [REP. R-OH]: We had a very nice meeting today. Of course, we've had a lot of very nice meetings.
PLANTE: The President says he still wants tax cuts extended for couples making less than $250,000 a year and for individuals making less than $200,000. But he wants the cuts to expire for upper incomes. Republicans want them extended for everyone.
MITCH MCCONNELL [SEN. R-KY]: In other words, that we treat all taxpayers the same.
PLANTE: And with the deadline looming, the lawmakers also discussed unemployment benefits.
OBAMA: I've asked that Congress act to extend this emergency relief without delay to folks who are facing tough times by no fault of their own.
PLANTE: But that midnight deadline passed this morning without the Senate approving benefits for the long-term unemployed. That means benefits will begin to run out today for nearly two million Americans. The Republicans want spending cuts to offset the costs.
BOEHNER: The American people want us to create jobs and to cut spending.
PLANTE: But there are new questions this morning about just how sincere the spirit of cooperation in Washington really is. CBS News has confirmed that Senate Republicans have collected signatures on a letter which pledges to block everything unrelated to tax cuts and spending during the lame duck congress. But publicly, at least, the watch word is still compromise.
BOEHNER: The question is can we find the common ground the American people expect us to find?
PLANTE: Or maybe the question is how can they find that common ground. And on top of that, it could all be overshadowed by the debate that begins today on the recommendations of the President's deficit commission, which is going to be talking about some drastic cuts in things like Social Security and some favorite programs like home mortgage deductions. So, a lot more fireworks to come, Harry.
SMITH: Bill Plante, thanks very much. Joining us now is White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs, good morning.
ROBERT GIBBS: Good morning, Harry, how are you?
SMITH: I'm reading the Washington Post this morning and Dana Milbank refers to the summit yesterday at the White House as the 'Slurpee Summit, nothing but empty calories.' Did anything of any real substance happen there yesterday in those two hours?
GIBBS: Well, Harry, the meeting I was in, I think we had some agreement on a pathway forward to get things done for the American people and find common ground, which incidentally is exactly what they want. The President appointed Jack Lu, our OMB director, budget director, Tim Geithner, our Treasury secretary, to sit down, beginning today, with members of the House and the Senate to find again a pathway forward on ensuring that middle-class Americans don't see their taxes go up at the end of the year when a series of tax cuts expire.
SMITH: But at the end of the day, nobody – everybody realizes that there will be – that the Bush tax cuts will be extended for just about everybody and the only thing left to quibble about is does the White House want to tax people with – who make $250,000 or make a million dollars? And are the Republicans really ready to deal on that?
GIBBS: Well, let's be clear, Harry, that every person in America benefits from those Bush-era tax cuts, up to $250,000 right now. Right now, there's tax cuts for everybody. The President's position is we ought to make permanent those tax cuts for the middle-class because the middle-class has gotten battered over – not just the past two years in this recession but the ten years leading up to it. And I would say this, the President has drawn the line that we shouldn't make permanent the tax cuts, as you said, for millionaires and billionaires, that's borrowing $700 billion from overseas in order to pay for that. So somewhere in the middle of that we'll find a compromise that moves our country forward and strengthens our economic recovery.
SMITH: Well even as the summit was taking place yesterday, Senate Republicans have been circulating, basically, a pledge that says, 'We are not – we are going to block every piece of legislation that comes our way unless it's related to tax cuts or government spending.' So, yesterday we started to hear a little bit of progress in terms of a START treaty. But do you think the START treaty could get done, especially in light of this pledge that all the Republican senators are signing? Can the START treaty get done by Christmas?
GIBBS: Harry, the START treaty will be done by Christmas. Our safety and security is just as important – is an important responsibility that the President has along with creating jobs and strengthening our economy. Reducing the nuclear weapons that are aimed at us by Russia ensuring that we have a verification regime to understand what their nuclear arsenal is undergoing is tremendously important for our security and for our place in the world. You've seen, as you said yesterday, increasing willingness by Republicans in the Senate to support the President's idea of getting that treaty done this year and I think it's going to happen.
SMITH: Alright. Very quickly, unemployment benefits due to expire for millions of Americans. Any chance they're going to get extended?
GIBBS: Harry, I certainly hope so and I know that the President brought this up specifically in the meeting yesterday. You've got millions of people that are out of work because of this great recession that we're going through. Now is not the time to take their benefits away. That's money that they use to pay the rent, to feed their children, to drive around looking for a job and that's money that goes back in the economy. We shouldn't penalize those that have fallen on hard times, because, like millions of Americans, they've lost their jobs.
SMITH: Robert Gibbs, thanks so much for your time this morning. Do appreciate it, sir.
GIBBS: Harry, thanks for doing it.