In The Minority, But Sticking To Party Lines

House Speaker John Boehner sent his colleagues home for the holidays after failing to pass a proposed solution to the year-end tax hikes that he called "Plan B." Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about Boehner's status as a leader within the GOP. They also discuss the defiant tone of the NRA press conference Friday.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

It seems less and less likely that a deal to avert the fiscal cliff will be reached before the New Year. And much of that may have to do with a divided opposition. James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me now, as he is most Saturdays. Jim, hello.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: John Boehner is - he's effectively the leader of the Republican Party. But given that he has not been able to get House Republicans to back a deal, I wonder, Jim, if he has lost the confidence of his party.

FALLOWS: You would certainly think that in the immediate operational sense. And I think, you know, more broadly, you have to wonder who is actually in charge of the Republican Party now. Even when parties are in opposition as, you know, one of them by definition is when the other party holds the White House, usually, there is somebody who speaks for the party. It might be a previous president. It might be a previous nominee. It might be a nominee aspirant.

But right now, there seems to be nobody who can either make deals on behalf of the Republican Party or express what its plans are for the fiscal cliff or almost anything else.

RAZ: It is, in a sense, similar to what the Democrats faced in the 1980s. I mean, they were kind of dominated by Reagan. They did have people like Tip O'Neil, but as you say, I mean, this is a difficult time for the GOP.

FALLOWS: It is. And I think the '80s comparison is an interesting one because it was in the middle of a long transition for the Democrats from their terrible defeat under George McGovern in 1972 against Richard Nixon. And through that time, the Democratic Party was going through all sorts of decisions and tensions and different people contending for control.

But through that time also, you had the sense that, number one, you knew what the factions were. They were sort of the new Democratic faction led by Gary Hart for a while and then eventually Bill Clinton. There was a more traditionalist group that Walter Mondale was associated with. And all of those teams felt as if they had to have some positive program on the economy, on taxes, on foreign policy, on defense. It's harder to find those groups in the Republican Party right now.

RAZ: Jim, just switching gears. I'm sure you saw the press conference, the NRA press conference in which the NRA's vice president, Wayne LaPierre, spoke. And this is one of the things he said.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

RAZ: Wayne LaPierre called for armed guards at schools. He didn't call for gun control. There was a defiant tone in that press conference, don't you think?

FALLOWS: There was. And in a sense, this is parallel to the showdown in the Congress over taxes, too, where you have a group that is apparently in the minority, as the NRA appears to be in many polls where people are suggesting something has to be done on the gun issue. But rather than offering some kind of compromise, essentially doubling down. And so in a day or two after the massacre a week ago, it looked as if a number of gun rights advocates were saying we need to reconsider. But certainly, that was not the tone for Mr. LaPierre.

RAZ: Jim, this is our good-bye. This is the last time we will speak as, of course, I am no longer going to be the host of this program after this weekend. And I wanted to thank you for your thoughtfulness and your wisdom and, of course, your star power for the past three and a half years. So thank you so much.

FALLOWS: So on behalf of millions of listeners, I say thank you, Guy, for what you've done with this program in the last three and a half years. And for myself, I say thanks very much for giving me the chance to have these talks with you.

RAZ: And the good news is, is that though I'm leaving, you'll still be able to hear Jim on this program on Saturdays. James Fallows is, of course, the national correspondent for The Atlantic. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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