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E.g., 12/9/2018
E.g., 12/9/2018

Job growth falls short of expectations in November

12/07/18 08:42AM

Ahead of this morning's jobs report, the New York Times  reported that economists expected gains of 190,000. Given recent Wall Street volatility, and chatter about a possible recession on the horizon, a weaker number, the report added, "would do little to soothe anxieties."

With this in mind, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 155,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.7%.

On a related note, the revisions for the two previous months -- September and October -- pointed to a net loss of 12,000.

In terms of the larger context, this morning's data points to 2.27 million jobs created so far in 2018, which is quite good, and which is an improvement on the totals from the first 11 months of 2017 (2.01 million). It's also up over the comparable period from 2016 (2.16 million). That said, this year's tally is still short of the totals from the first 11 months of 2014 (2.75 million) and 2015 (2.46 million).

When the White House says this is the best growth "ever," it apparently means "since a few years ago."

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 22 full months -- February 2017 through November 2018 -- and in that time, the economy has created 4.2 million jobs. In the 22 full months preceding Trump's presidency -- April 2015 to January 2017 -- the economy created 4.74 million jobs.

The White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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US President Donald Trump is greeted by US senatorial candidate Attorney General Josh Hawley upon arrival at Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Missouri on September 21, 2018.

A month after election, new GOP senator already faces investigation

12/07/18 08:00AM

In one of this year's most closely watched U.S. Senate races, Missouri's Josh Hawley (R) stood out for a candidacy chased by dark clouds. The Republican promised voters, for example, not to use his office as a springboard to a higher office, but then broke that commitment within months of becoming state attorney general. Hawley also lied repeatedly about the anti-health care lawsuit he helped file.

Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times took separate looks at Hawley's tenure as state attorney general, and both painted deeply unflattering portraits, including criticisms from state judges over his office's work.

But he's a Republican in a red state, so voters last month elected Hawley to the U.S. Senate anyway. A month after the election, however, Hawley's most serious controversy is already coming back to haunt him. Usually, senators have to wait a while before they find themselves under investigation, but as the Kansas City Star  reported, the Missouri Republican is already facing a probe -- and he won't even be sworn in for several weeks.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has launched an investigation into a complaint that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley used public resources in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate.

The American Democracy Legal Fund on Nov. 2 filed a complaint with Ashcroft, claiming that Hawley used out-of-state political consultants to direct the activities of public employees in the attorney general's office to raise Hawley's political profile as he prepared to mount a campaign for U.S. Senate.

"Josh Hawley's flagrant abuse of his taxpayer funded office for his own political gain deserves immediate investigation," said Brad Woodhouse, ADLF president, in a statement. "We're heartened to see Secretary of State Ashcroft give this racket further scrutiny."

Given what we know, "racket" seems like a fair choice of words.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.6.18

12/06/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The arrest of Meng Wanzhou carries real international consequences: "China demanded the release of a senior executive at tech giant Huawei Technologies after she was detained in Canada on extradition charges to the U.S."

* I guess we now know about one of the two redacted investigations Flynn is helping with: "Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a secret Turkish lobbying effort that once involved Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, even as Mr. Flynn's role in the special counsel's investigation winds down, according to people familiar with the inquiry."

* This is exactly the opposite of the result Trump promised: "The trade deficit rose in October to a 10-year high amid a record shortfall with China, keeping the U.S. on pace to record the largest annual gap in a decade."

* Quite a ride: "Wall Street had a rollercoaster ride on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average swinging from a session low where it was down 784 points, to end the day with a decline of just 77 points."

* Not how democracy is supposed to work: "Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate rushed to approve 82 of Gov. Scott Walker's appointees, a month after voters chose not to reelect the Republican."

* A striking op-ed in the Miami Herald calling for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to resign "immediately."

* A striking portrait in the New York Times about an undocumented immigrant, who works at Donald Trump's New Jersey golf course, who's taking a great risk by speaking up.

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An election worker checks a voter's drivers license as North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary election at a polling place, March 15, 2016,  in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Despite election-fraud scandal, North Carolina advances voter-ID bill

12/06/18 12:49PM

The Republican-majority in North Carolina's General Assembly isn't addressing the election fraud that does exist, but it is addressing the threat of voter fraud that doesn't exist. The News & Observer in Raleigh reports:

The North Carolina General Assembly has finalized legislation implementing the voter photo identification mandate approved in a statewide referendum last month.

The Senate voted 25-7 on Thursday to accept House changes to the measure and sent it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a voter ID opponent. Republicans in charge of the legislature can override a Cooper veto if they stay united.

If you're thinking that this sounds vaguely familiar, that's probably because GOP policymakers in the Tar Heel State approved a different voter-ID law in 2013 as part of a package of new voting restrictions. That package was later rejected by the courts, with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2016 that the measure's provisions targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision."

Donald Trump later nominated the architect of that plan, Thomas Farr, to a lifetime position as a federal judge.

This latest effort isn't quite as offensive -- it allows the use of student-IDs, for example, while the previous iterations did not -- but it will nevertheless almost certainly face resistance from North Carolina's Democratic governor. That said, given the size of the GOP majority in the legislature, the new bill is very likely to become law anyway.

That will be a step backwards for voting rights in the state, but it's especially jarring given the larger context: North Carolina is dealing with the most serious example of election fraud in recent American history.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.6.18

12/06/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, has called for an emergency hearing to examine allegations of election fraud in North Carolina's 9th congressional district. "Real election fraud is playing out right before us," the Virginia Dem told the Washington Post.

* In the Alaska state House race we've been watching, the latest recount found the Republican candidate ahead by a single vote, and the Democrat in the race appears poised to take the issue to the courts.

* Nancy Pelosi moved a little closer to reclaiming the House Speaker's gavel yesterday when Rep.-elect Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who voted against Pelosi in last week's caucus meeting, announced plans to vote for her on the House floor next month.

* It was extremely close, but state lawmakers in New Hampshire yesterday re-elected Bill Gardner (D) to serve as secretary of state for another term. It's a position Gardner has held for 42 years.

* Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser became the latest Republican to say he won't run for governor in Louisiana next year, though incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) isn't going to run unopposed. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R), a relatively low-profile two-term congressman, announced this morning that he's going to take on Edwards in 2019.

* Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could try to reclaim his old Senate seat next year, but the Alabama Republican spoke to Politico yesterday and didn't sound especially interested.

* Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) seemed to suggest at an event this week that Gov. Steve Bullock (D) would take on Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in 2020, but yesterday, Tester walked it back, explaining that he misheard the question.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Answering Mueller's questions may not have been 'easy' after all

12/06/18 11:06AM

The Atlantic's Elaina Plott has a new report on Donald Trump's team preparing for a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the degree to which those efforts aren't going well. The piece has quite a few interesting insights, but this was one of the tidbits that stood out for me:

Giuliani said it's been difficult in the last few months to even consider drafting response plans, or devote time to the "counter-report" he claimed they were working on this summer, as he and Trump confronted Mueller's written questions about the 2016 campaign.

"Answering those questions was a nightmare," he told me. "It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days."

We talked earlier about the trajectory of the elusive "counter-report," but let's also take a moment to consider what else Giuliani conceded in the interview.

After months of clumsy negotiations, the special counsel's office submitted a series of written questions to the White House, and just a few weeks ago, the president was eager to boast about the answers he claims to have personally prepared.

"I write the answers." Trump insisted. "My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I have answered them very easily. Very easily.... The questions were very routinely answered by me. By me. Okay?"

Even at the time, the president's rhetoric seemed ridiculous. Now, however, it seems a little worse.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani comments on a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision outside Los Angeles Superior court in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani changes direction on report to counter Mueller

12/06/18 10:40AM

Earlier this year, Donald Trump found it difficult to find good lawyers willing to represent him in the investigation into the Russia scandal. Eventually, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that he'd agreed to join the president's legal defense team, and he had high hopes about what he'd be able to achieve.

In fact, Giuliani said at the time that he hoped to bring the entire investigation to an end "maybe in a couple of weeks."

That was in April.

As it turns out, it wasn't the only prediction he's flubbed. Giuliani told The Atlantic, for example, that the "counter-report" to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's still-unpublished findings isn't progressing well. The Atlantic reported that the former mayor has found it difficult in recent months to devote time to the document he claimed to be drafting over the summer.

That's where New York's Jon Chait picked up the thread:

On August 30, the Daily Beast had a much more extensive update on the counter-report. It was "quite voluminous," Giuliani boasted. "The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn't done yet … It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred." Giuliani said the first draft would be "in pretty good shape by next week," though a more cautious source told the Daily Beast that "those involved expect the counter-report to be ready to go in the next two to three weeks."

A profile of Giuliani in The New Yorker, published September 10, included another counter-report update: "Giuliani said that this 'counter-report' is already forty-five pages and will likely grow, adding, 'It needs a five-page summary -- for me.'" Note that just a couple weeks before, the first half alone had stretched to 58 pages, but now the entire thing was just 45 pages. This was perhaps a sign that the report was not proceeding quite as fast as promised.

And now that report, which Giuliani boasted was "quite voluminous," doesn't appear to be anywhere on the horizon.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Lindsey Graham underwhelmed by Michael Flynn's felonies

12/06/18 10:01AM

Last week, Michael Cohen admitted in court that he lied to Congress about Donald Trump's efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It marked the first time the president's private business dealings in Russia were directly implicated in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the broader Russia scandal.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) didn't much care, saying the wrongdoing from Trump's former personal attorney "seems to be a process crime."

This week, the special counsel's office submitted a court filing detailing former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's felonies. Asked for his reaction, Graham told CNN yesterday, "The charge leveled against Gen. Flynn is sort of a process crime."

Really? Again?

I realize that Mueller and his team recommended that Flynn not be locked up for his felonies, but reading Tuesday's court filing, they didn't downplay the significance of his crimes, either. From the filing:

"The defendant's offense is serious. As described in the Statement of Offense, the defendant made multiple false statements, to multiple Department of Justice entities, on multiple occasions."

Flynn lied about his communications with Russia, he lied about his work with Turkey, he gave false statements that was material to a serious ongoing counterintelligence investigation, and he tried to cover up the degree to which he'd been compromised.

To which Lindsey Graham, the lawmaker who'll soon chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively said, "Yawn."

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A month later, scale of Dems' victory appears even more impressive

12/06/18 09:20AM

A month ago tomorrow, Donald Trump held a post-election press conference in the White House, where a reporter reminded the president, "You're a man who likes to win, but last night was not an absolute victory for you."

Before she could even get to her question, Trump interjected. "I'll be honest," the famously dishonest president said. "I thought it was a very close to complete victory."

Even at the time, there was nothing "honest" about the assessment. Trump's Republican Party had just lost dozens of U.S. House seats and its majority in the chamber, effectively killing the president's legislative agenda for the next two years.

But a month later, the electoral landscape looks even worse for the GOP. The number of Democratic pickups in the U.S. House reached 40 -- on the very high end of what most observers considered possible in this cycle -- and as the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman noted last night, the Democrats' lead in the national popular vote now stands at 8.6%.

That's the largest margin either party has seen in any midterm cycle in more than 30 years. (I put together the above chart to help drive the point, relying on data from FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and Princeton's Sam Wang.)

Also note, in raw popular vote totals, House Democrats recently crossed the 60 million-vote threshold, which means the party received roughly the same number of votes in this year's midterms as John McCain did in his 2008 presidential election and Mitt Romney did in his 2012 bid.

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