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December 18th, 2011
05:11 AM ET

State of the Union Early Bird for December 18, 2011

(CNN)-It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.

On our radar:  The politics of the payroll tax cut and the last of the U.S. troops leave Iraq.

Joe Johns fills in for Candy Crowley this week.  Be sure to watch the show today at 9am/12pm ET, with guests Jon Hunstman, Gene Sperling, and more!


For Senate Tax Cut Stopgap, Odds in House Are Uncertain

During a briefing with reporters Saturday, senior administration officials repeatedly referred to Congress’s low approval ratings with American voters, saying that it would be political suicide for Republicans to turn around next February and not extend the tax cut. “You’ve got to look at the forest,” one senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under guidelines established by the White House before the briefing. “The forest remains that these guys have a weak economy, and they’re going to be running next year.”

House Will Likely Modify Senate Extenders Package

The House will likely modify or send to conference a Senate-passed bill to temporarily extend jobless benefits and the payroll tax cut when the chamber returns Monday, prolonging a session already well past its target end-date.

The chamber will also vote on the Senate-passed version of the bill, according to the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican's office sent a release Saturday night indicating that votes are possible on Tuesday as well.

The move would force Senate leaders, who have already compromised to pass a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance benefits and a patch to payments for doctors who treat Medicare patients, to take the issue up yet again.

Obama Aides: Keystone Pipeline Inclusion 'Is Absolutely Not A Blink'

The inclusion, on its surface, goes directly against the president's veto threat. But the White House has no plans to torpedo the measure. At a briefing with reporters following a short statement by the president, senior administration officials made the case that their position on the pipeline had not been affected.

"It is absolutely not a blink," said one official. "It does not make him do a single thing... All they did was shorten the review process. ... They shortened the review process to 60 days; they are not making the president do anything."

Keystone climbdown leaves Obama supporters scratching their heads

While it’s unclear how Obama will emerge from this latest debate politically, some say the latest outcome is reflective of the president’s limited negotiating skills. While the president can seem convincing when selling a plan in town halls across the country, supporters and observers question his ability to seal the deal at crunch time.

“It’s part of a larger pattern where the White House caves after making a grand sell,” said one prominent Democratic strategist. “At the end of the day, what this tells me is that they’re more pragmatic than ideological.”


Mitt Romney proud to have backing of Dole, whose ’08 support of McCain he derided

Newt Gingrich’s assault on ‘activist judges’ draws criticism, even from right

The Des Moines Register’s GOP caucus endorsement: Mitt Romney is best to lead

Iowa religious leader asks Bachmann to combine with Santorum, condemns rest of field

The Rev. Albert Calaway, a retired Assemblies of God minister who lives in Indianola, today endorsed Santorum – but said he’d like to see Bachmann as the vice presidential nominee.

“There’s absolutely, positively no divine power vested in me for this, but if I had it, I’d personally love to pronounce Rick and Michele as lawfully wedded running mates,” Calaway told The Des Moines Register in a written statement.

Economy Rules G.O.P. Message, but Iowa Differs

Iowa, one of several Midwestern states that largely sidestepped the reckless rise of the housing market and the crash that followed, has remained relatively stable through these difficult years. Buoyed by a booming agriculture sector, the state is enjoying lower unemployment, greater income growth, steadier home sales and fewer foreclosures than most others.

“The recession hit here later, and it wasn’t nearly as bad,” said Charles Whiteman, director of the Institute for Economic Research at the University of Iowa. “This year, Iowa is actually performing fairly well.”

For Iowa’s evangelicals, no clear GOP favorite


Deadly Iraq war ends with exit of last U.S. troops

The military called it its final "tactical road march." A series of 110 heavily armored, hulking trucks and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles carrying about 500 soldiers streamed slowly but steadily out of the combat zone.

The United States will still maintain a presence in Iraq: hundreds of nonmilitary personnel, including 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers, and economic, agricultural and other experts, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect Americans and another 4,500 contractors will serve in other roles.

Large Bloc of Lawmakers Boycotts Iraqi Parliament

One of the largest and most powerful political groups in Iraq began a boycott of Parliament on Saturday, signaling fresh waves of political dysfunction that threaten to unravel Iraq’s year-old governing coalition just days after the formal end to the American military mission here.

As U.S. departs Iraq, it leaves behind allies who won't talk

More than five years have passed since Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah last received Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al Maliki. The Saudi monarch views Maliki as untrustworthy and, even worse, "an Iranian agent."

The enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is just one of the many fissures in the Middle East that have widened in the almost nine years since the U.S. toppled Saddam. Now, the Arab Spring has exacerbated already existing sectarian tensions in the region at a time when the U.S. departure from Iraq leaves it with less capacity to act in the region to intervene if military conflict seems imminent.

Iraq, a War Obama Didn’t Want, Shaped His Foreign Policy

“There used to be a hot debate over even setting a timetable,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. While he cautioned that Iraq is not a perfect precedent for Afghanistan, “there should be no doubt about our commitment to follow through on the timelines we set in Afghanistan,” he said.

Thanks for reading!

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