Seven hours ago, House Republicans were fired up and ready to kill the bipartisan fiscal agreement that the Senate passed easily last night. Tonight, however, the House passed the Senate deal without too much trouble, 257 to 167.
House Speaker John Boehner was, as expected, forced to ignore the arbitrary, so-called "Hastert Rule," and bring the bill to the floor despite the opposition of most of the majority caucus. By the time the gavel fell, however, it was far more than a sliver of House GOP members who bit the bullet and grudgingly supported the compromise -- 85 Republicans voted for the bill tonight, while 151 voted against it.
Of particular interest was the division among GOP leaders. Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan voted for the Senate compromise, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy voted against it.
The rumors of sharp fissures among Republican leaders are true, and Boehner and Cantor are obviously not on the same page. It's a dynamic that's well worth watching as the new Congress gets underway, and the House GOP leadership tries to govern with an even smaller caucus.
Regardless, while Boehner surely wished he enjoyed more support from his own members, Cantor does not end the evening looking especially strong -- he briefly led the insurgency against the fiscal agreement this afternoon, and ignored the wishes of his own Speaker, but the effort to derail the deal ended up failing badly.
President Obama, who will sign the completed agreement quite soon, is scheduled to speak from the White House briefing room any minute now.
But as the dust settles, it's worth considering how the day unfolded in the House. The GOP caucus gathered for a preliminary, midday meeting at which Republicans insisted on "amending" the bipartisan bill -- making it far more favorable to the right -- and then sending it back to the Senate with an ultimatum: pass the House version or else.
But by the time House Republicans gathered for a rare evening meeting, the push behind the effort had fizzled, and the earlier threats started to look like empty bluster. So, what happened? A few things, actually.
First, GOP members realized that amending the Senate package would necessarily unravel the entire process, and there would be no doubt in anyone's mind who would receive -- and deserve -- the blame for higher taxes and sweeping austerity measures that would do real harm to the economy: House Republicans.
Second, there was limited support for an amended bill, anyway. Remember, Boehner's "Plan B," which died an ignominious death just two weeks ago, set the higher marginal income tax threshold at a $1 million and included all kinds of right-wing goodies intended to secure Republican support. It failed miserably. The amended Senate bill would have set the threshold at $450,000 and it would have generated zero Democratic votes. It quickly became apparent that the proposal couldn't pass, and wasn't worth pursuing.
The clock only made matters worse -- GOP leaders, having already missed the New Year's Eve deadline, maintained they wanted to wrap this up well in advance of financial markets opening in the morning.
And that left the House with a choice: either pass or kill the deal. With the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her disciplined caucus, the chamber chose the former.
One other thought to keep in mind as members head to the cameras tonight: House Republicans had no say in shaping this deal, but that was by design. I saw Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) complain this afternoon that he thinks the Senate acted like a "dictatorship" that wants to rule over the House.
Let's not forget recent history -- which is to say, the history from last week. The White House worked with the Speaker and his office on a compromise, and Boehner abandoned the talks. A few days later, Boehner's caucus abandoned him, leaving a scenario in which the entire chamber was lost and directionless.
And it was at that point, the Speaker announced, "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff." In other words, the House GOP leadership gave up and ceded power to the Senate and the White House.
House Republicans weren't really in a position to wait until Jan. 1 and then decide it had changed its mind about who deserved to have a hand in crafting a bipartisan agreement. The Senate didn't play the role of a "dictatorship"; it simply did the work the House was unable and unwilling to do.
And now, the process is over, and the bill heads to the White House for the president's signature. We'll have plenty more coverage in the morning.