The role of Tom Cole, the staunch Republican with strong conservative credentials, as a key negotiating pawn in the tax negotiations on the so-called "fiscal cliff" is becoming increasingly clear as he continues to provide political cover for leaders in his party to strike a deal under President Obama's tax plan.
Cole on Tuesday urged his fellow Republican colleagues in Congress to embrace the president's plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to Americans making less than $250,000 annually, and leave the negotiations over what to do with rates for the top 2% of earners for another day.
Cole has not been shy in highlighting the distance on the Republican's tax-rate stance between himself and House Speaker John Boehner. He emphasized on msnbc's Daily Rundown Thursday that he had not intended his original comments embracing President Obama's tax plan to become public (“Somebody leaked it out, that’s fine,” he told host Chuck Todd). But since that leak the Republican has appeared on cable networks at least five times, doubling down on his assertions that the GOP should take Obama's deal.
"There’s certainly a division of opinion or a variety of opinion inside the Republican conference," Cole added.
Cole, a stalwart for the Republican Party as the former head of the Republican Congressional Committee, provides a considerable amount of political coverage for House Speaker Boehner of Ohio. His finger in the air provides space for Speaker Boehner to negotiate on tax rates within his own party.
Boehner on Wednesday did publicly distance himself from Cole, saying he "disagreed" with the Oklahoma conservative's proposal. But still Cole has continued on a very public compromise tour without significant pushback from the top Republican leader.
Yet, Cole remained deferential to the speaker.
"Our chief negotiator is the speaker--he can deliver the Republican votes for a deal he thinks is the right one," Cole told Chuck Todd. "I've always supported him in that and I'm sure I would again."
Cole went on to suggest that the Republican strategy was a tit-for-tat with Democrats on negotiating tax rates versus spending cuts to entitlement programs.
"Our leverage here is not the tax rates, that's actually the Democrats' leverage," Cole said. "Our leverage, in my view, are the spending cuts."