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CNN Badgers Congressman to Tear Up No-Tax-Hike Pledge

CNN's Christine Romans and Soledad O'Brien teamed up on Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuesday's Starting Point, pressuring him to renege on his pledge not to raise tax rates. In contrast, O'Brien later tossed DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) a giant softball asking the congresswoman if she saw herself "as a bridge-builder in Congress" in contrast to Chaffetz.

"So would you be fine doing a compromise where you would go against your signature on that pledge?" O'Brien pressed Chaffetz over Grover Norquist's pledge not to hike tax rates and not to increase tax revenues without enacting equal tax rate cuts. She asked him if he would "say this to the pledge" while tearing up a piece of paper.

[Video below. Audio here.]

"But Grover Norquist did not elect you. Your constituents elected you," Romans lectured the congressman after he answered no to O'Brien's dramatic question. "Grover Norquist – you don't represent Grover Norquist. You represent your constituents and the American people."

Romans had cornered Chaffetz earlier when he expressed his desire for "closing loopholes and deductions." She declared "that would raise taxes on people," adding "if your taxes go up but your tax rate doesn't go up, is that a sell Republicans can live with?"

However, later on O'Brien gave Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz the opportunity to paint herself as a "bridge builder" compared to the Republican Chaffetz.

"So do you see yourself as a bridge builder in Congress? Are you going to say yes, let's cut spending and in exchange for cutting spending, we've got to raise taxes? Because when we talk to Jason Chaffetz he sure as heck doesn't sound like he's going to raise anybody's taxes," O'Brien posed.

In her Wasserman-Schultz interview, O'Brien did give Republicans some authority in the fiscal cliff debate. "I mean for the most part, right, the House is still run by Republicans," O'Brien said, adding "And it's not like Governor Romney got 20 percent of the vote. He got, what, 49 percent of the vote?"

Nevertheless, O'Brien showed a clear double standard by badgering Chaffetz while giving Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the DNC, a chance to paint herself as a "bridge-builder."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Starting Point at 7:24 a.m. EST, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Raise taxes for people who are making $250,000-plus?

Rep. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-Utah): That's not something I think that we should be doing. I don't believe we should be increasing the tax rate. I like what Speaker Boehner said and said, look, let's work on closing these loopholes and deductions. That is common ground. There's no reason why we can't come together.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: But that would raise taxes on people. And so this is where you get this fight in the Republican Party. Because if your taxes go up but your tax rate doesn't go up, is that a sell Republicans can live with?

CHAFFETZ: It's not – it depends how it's mixed up. We don't want to raise the tax rate. If you're closing loopholes and broadening the base, lowering the rate, then I think we can get there.

O'BRIEN: You signed Grover Norquist's pledge, I'm going to assume, because pretty much every Republican congressman did.

CHAFFETZ: Yeah, it's pretty – yeah.

O'BRIEN: So would you be fine doing a compromise where you would go against your signature on that pledge? I mean if that's what it came to and you felt like there was a compromise on the table, would you be fine to say –

CHAFFETZ: I do not – I do not --

O'BRIEN: – (rips paper) – this to the pledge --

CHAFFETZ: I do not –  

O'BRIEN: It was dramatic, wasn't it?

CHAFFETZ: It was dramatic.

(Laughter)

O'BRIEN: But I need these notes so I'm going to put them back like that. Okay.

CHAFFETZ: I do not intend to do that. I want to fight for the principles I believe in. I, too, was elected, and I think that's part of the give and the take –

ROMANS: But Grover Norquist did not elect you. Your constituents elected you.

CHAFFETZ: I know. But I believe in that.

ROMANS: Grover Norquist – you don't represent Grover Norquist. You represent your constituents and the American people.

CHAFFETZ: I didn't sign it because I was trying to please Grover Norquist. I signed it because I believe it. I don't believe that we are one good tax increase away from prosperity in this nation. I really do believe that we have to rein in spending, we've got to broaden the base, lower the rate and get this country working again.

SUSY WELCH, columnist and bestselling author: If most people, nost Republicans are where you are, do you actually see some kind of compromise occurring? Because it sounds like where we were six, seven months ago. No, don't raise the tax rate, and others saying raise the tax rate. And then, where's the movement?

CHAFFETZ: You know, it's interesting. A lot of people argue well, let's go back to the tax rates of President Clinton. And remember, let's remember that there was a Republican House back then. But let's get also the spending down to the spending levels. Right now we're spending in excess of 24 percent of GDP. In the Clinton years we were spending about 19 percent. So if the President's going to argue let's go back to the Clinton tax rates we're going to argue let's go back to the Clinton spending rates.

-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center