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House GOP Finds Itself Out on a Limb

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Updated: 5:35 p.m.

House Republicans today found themselves increasingly isolated in their high-stakes game of chicken over a payroll tax cut extension as Democrats, the White House and even Senate Republicans were all increasingly critical of their intransigence.

As the standoff slowly ground through its fourth day, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) continued to see support erode for his Conference’s opposition to extending the payroll tax cut for an additional two months to give Congress more time to work out a longer extension.

Boehner awoke to harsh words from the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which bluntly wrote that “Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics” of the payroll fight, adding that “At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly.”

Later, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) — the only Senate Republican who had come to the defense of House Republicans — acknowledged on CNBC that their opposition was turning into a political nightmare.

Corker called it “one more public policy blunder. ... Probably at this point, the best thing to do is to figure out a way to get this behind us and move on and hopefully at some point, figure out a way to begin dealing with the real issues that our country needs to deal with.”

Although Corker would later in the day attempt to walk back his comments, the damage was done, and a flood of Senate GOP leadership and rank-and-file aides began taking their own shots at Boehner, criticizing everything from how he conducted himself in talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to how he has handled the politics of the showdown.

“If you’re going to have a standoff, have a standoff,” one exasperated veteran GOP Senate aide said, adding that while Boehner continues to insist he warned McConnell he would not back the two-month deal, “the House guys signed off on this. McConnell wouldn’t have done this if he hadn’t.”

The Senate aide also sympathized with Boehner, arguing that his Conference has put him in a difficult position and that given the vitriolic rhetoric, it’s unclear whether Boehner could cave on the issue even if he wanted to at this point.

“They could have before; I don’t know if they can now,” the aide added.

The entire day wasn’t filled with friendly fire for Boehner, however, as the Speaker appeared at meeting of his picks for a conference committee that has yet to materialize. Influential radio host Rush Limbaugh came out in support of him and launched a harsh attack against the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s conservative credentials.

Later in the afternoon in an at-times-fawning interview, radio host Michael Medved effused over Boehner, calling him “the real leader” of the United States and praising his handling of the fight.

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