John Boehner's Brilliant Maneuver

John Boehner.
On Saturday evening, the New York Times published a story about the degree to which John Boehner, the House Republican leader, is "Tightly Bound to Lobbyists." 

The story painted a damning portrait of Boehner, who will likely become Speaker of the House if the GOP takes the chamber in November, as closely allied with lobbyists who donate to his campaign and fly him around the country on corporate jets in exchange for access and, in some cases, action on their behalf.

The White House quickly trumpeted the story, with spokesman Robert Gibbs posting a series of Tweets pointing to it, including this one: "Story on Boehner covers some of his greatest hits - handing out checks from lobbyists on the House floor."

Boehner's office went into crisis mode almost immediately once the story was published, e-mailing reporters to counter its claims and criticizing the newspaper for changing an important word in the story after it was published.

It's easy to see why they were concerned: President Obama had spent the past couple weeks working to elevate the previously little-known Boehner into the face of the GOP, and the story came at a crucial time in determining the public perception of the potential House speaker. Between the president's harsh rhetoric and the Times' negative characterization, Boehner faced a one-two punch of negative publicity just as America was getting to know him.

Cut to Sunday morning: Boehner appears on CBS' "Face the Nation" and shocks the political establishment by saying that he would vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts even if the bill does not include an extension for the highest-earning Americans. The comments were a break from steadfast Republican opposition to extending the cuts without including the wealthy. (Democrats want to extend the Bush-era cuts for individuals earning $200,000 or less and couples earning $250,000 or less, while Republicans want to extend them for everyone. The cuts are set to expire in January.)

Boehner's comments made enormous waves, and quickly made Washington forget about the Times story and the narrative that came with it. Suddenly, a man who was on the verge of being defined as little more than a lackey of business interests was being discussed within the context of his willingness to compromise to help middle-class Americans. (One note: The "Face the Nation" interview was taped on Saturday, the same day as the Times story came out, though the Boehner camp's quick response showed it was well aware what was coming.)

The comments also undercut Democratic arguments that Republicans are holding middle class tax cuts "hostage" and weakened two of their key arguments -- that Republicans are only looking out for the rich, and that they are the "party of no" -- ahead of the midterm elections.

The icing on the cake? Boehner didn't give up any real ground. Democrats in the House don't want to originate the bill, because many don't want to cast a vote that would leave them open to charges that they backed a tax increase (because it let the tax cuts for high-earners lapse). Even if such a bill comes through the House, Senate Republicans are vowing to filibuster any billthat does not include tax cuts for all. (They've also got some Democrats on their side.)

Which means that though the path of any bill is still being worked out, Boehner may not have to vote on a bill that would raise the taxes of the wealthiest Americans - and even if he does, he can always calm his backers by noting that the Senate probably won't pass it.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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