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Last week, GOP Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Republicans should accept President Obama's proposal to extend middle-class class tax cuts, arguing that the longer Republicans hold them hostage, the weaker their hand would be in other aspects of fiscal cliff negotiations.

Monday morning, he told Fox that he hasn't changed his position, but instead of focusing on the case he made last week, he highlighted his firm support for House Speaker John Boehner. "My position hasn't changed," Cole said. "That's actually, I still think, a good way forward. But it's not going to change my support for the speaker." Cole then proceeded to repeatedly state that Boehner is the GOP's lead negotiator and that Republicans would back his position in any deal:

Every time the speaker has had a tough vote that he's asked us to cast, I've been there for him. And, frankly, I can't imagine I won't be there again. I've never undercut him, I certainly wouldn't undercut him in this. I think this an extraordinarily important negotiation. But the president is going to have to understand this negotiation is between him and the speaker. It's not going to be with individual members of the Republican conference.
Perhaps I'm overanalyzing Cole's words, but to me it seems like he's protesting a bit too much. Obviously, his goal was to communicate the message that Republicans are united behind Boehner, but he spent so much time highlighting that point during the interview (not just in the passage I quoted above), I actually have some doubt about whether or not its true.

Keep in mind that President Obama has repeatedly pointed out that that it would only take a handful of Republicans to join with Democrats in extending the tax cuts and that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is threatening a discharge petition to get middle-class tax cuts onto the Senate floor. Those are both strategies aimed at extending middle-class tax cut primarily with Democratic votes. About 10 to 15 percent of the GOP caucus would need to join with Democrats, in the process creating a big fissure within the House GOP and effectively neutering House conservatives. In other words, that's an outcome that the House Republican leadership really, really doesn't want to see.

It would be such an obvious political disaster for senior Republicans that it's surprising that anyone on their side of the aisle would be talking about it at all. It's not a shock that Obama or Pelosi might try to encourage such discussion, but even though Cole is now trying to put a lid on such talk, it was his own words that started it. The fact that several days later he still needs to reclarify what he meant tells me he's getting a lot of pressure from senior Republicans to silence any talk of internal divisions within the House GOP. And if that's what's happening, then we know exactly what their worried about—and it should encourage Democrats to push harder than ever to exploit GOP discord.

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