One after the other, participants rose to congratulate Norquist for his multiple television and radio appearances defending the tax pledge, and to assure the crowd that Republican activists and lawmakers would stand firm against Obama’s call to raise taxes. Attendees included emissaries from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“The fact they’re attacking Grover really shows the impact of what he’s doing,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), incoming chairman of the conservative caucus in the House known as the Republican Study Committee, said as the room burst into applause and cheers. Scalise then declared himself “proud to be a pledge signer.”
Norquist says he will not hesitate to support 2014 primary challenges against Republicans who violate the pledge. His group spent $15.7 million in the 2012 election, mostly against Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The threat of a primary fight is unnerving for many Republicans, and it helps explain why even some of Norquist’s apparent critics in the GOP — such as Chambliss, who is up for reelection in 2014 — want to smooth over any apparent tensions.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told ABC last week that Norquist was wrong to oppose finding new revenue by capping deductions and that “I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
The remarks did not faze Norquist. In an earlier private telephone chat, Norquist said, Graham had assured him that he would compromise on taxes only if Democrats agreed to entitlement changes “on a massive scale” — prompting Norquist to tell Graham that he would “never be tempted” to raise taxes because the left would never make such a concession.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who caused a stir when he urged House Republicans to consider letting taxes rise on the highest-earning Americans to preserve lower rates for others, later told CNN that “I admire Grover Norquist, I think he’s doing a lot of good,” and that he was “honored” to have signed the tax pledge. Cole said he did not think his idea violated the pledge.
Norquist said he also has had private conversations with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he was “not obligated to any pledge other than my oath.” Norquist, appearing on the same program, said Corker had been “seduced into thinking, well, maybe I’ll have a small, tiny tax increase and have real reform and we’ll move forward.”