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E.g., 10/19/2018
E.g., 10/19/2018

Job growth cooled in September, falling short of expectations

10/05/18 08:46AM

Though there were some concerns about the effects Hurricane Florence may have had on the U.S. job market, most projections pointed to monthly job growth in September around 194,000. The initial data suggests we fell short by a significant amount.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 134,000 jobs in September, while the unemployment rate dropped further to 3.7%. The 134,000 is the lowest of the year to date.

On a more encouraging note, the revisions for the two previous months -- July and August -- were quite good, with a combined net gain of 87,000 jobs as compared to previous BLS reports.

In terms of the larger context, this morning's data points to 1.875 million jobs created so far in 2018, which is quite good, and which is an improvement on the totals from the first nine months of 2017 (1.53 million). It's also roughly identical to the numbers from 2015 (1.84 million) and 2016 (1.85 million). That said, this year's tally is still short of the totals from the first nine months of 2014 (2.19 million).

When the White House says this is the best growth "ever," it apparently means "since 2014."

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 20 full months – February 2017 through September 2018 -- and in that time, the economy has created 3.8 million jobs. In the 20 full months preceding Trump's presidency -- June 2015 to January 2017 -- the economy created 4.15 million jobs.

The White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed.

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Image: Brett Kavanaugh

In an odd, 11th-hour op-ed, Kavanaugh expresses regret (sort of)

10/05/18 08:00AM

One of the reasons Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination is so controversial is the sheer volume of controversies. Obviously, there are serious questions about alleged sexual misconduct, about which the Republican jurist has been accused of lying. And while this may be at the top of the list, this does not stand alone.

Kavanaugh's critics have raised questions about his judicial philosophy and his position on shielding the president from scrutiny. His opponents have also pointed to multiple examples of dubious claims Kavanaugh has made under oath.

And then there was last week's testimony, when the judge added questions of judicial temperament to the mix. Overnight, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from Kavanaugh in which he expressed some regret.

I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.

Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good.

Kavanaugh's piece did not specify which of his comments he regrets.

If the opinion piece is intended to reassure his skeptics, it's hard to imagine how or why it would succeed. Kavanaugh's argument, in effect, is that he responded to heightened pressure by becoming partisan and conspiratorial -- which senators should overlook by putting him on the Supreme Court for the next several decades.

What's more, as a factual matter, Kavanaugh's argument is difficult to believe. Remember, the nominee didn't blurt out partisan comments in response to confrontational questioning; Kavanaugh shared a conspiracy theory about a revenge scheme "on behalf of the Clintons" while reading from his pre-written opening remarks.

He's asking senators to excuse an emotional outburst he wrote the day before?

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.4.18

10/04/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A bold and courageous move for the Senate's most vulnerable Democrat: "Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has made up her mind on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination: She'll vote no, she announced Thursday."

* The suspected gunman is in custody: "A South Carolina law enforcement officer was killed and six others were injured Wednesday when a man opened fire as they tried to serve a search warrant on him regarding a sexual assault investigation, officials said."

* Quite an indictment: "The Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictment of seven Russian military spies on cyber hacking charges linked to the leaking of Olympic athletes' drug-test data in an alleged attempt to retaliate against international efforts to expose Russian doping."

* The appeal on this should be interesting: "A federal judge late Wednesday blocked the Trump administration's move to end Temporary Protected Status for more than 300,000 nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. The move temporarily halts the administration's plan to force the beneficiaries -- some of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades -- to find another immigration status or face deportation."

* The last time I checked, the number of law professors who've signed onto a New York Times op-ed in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination is over 2,400. That's an extraordinarily large number. (I believe it started with 650 signatories yesterday, which was also a lot, but it keeps growing.)

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Retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens speaks at an event, May 21, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Retired Supreme Court justice speaks out against Kavanaugh nomination

10/04/18 04:46PM

When Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, he appeared to do at least some harm to his reputation. In the wake of testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the Supreme Court of sexually assaulting her many years earlier, the Republican jurist presented himself as an enraged and conspiratorial partisan.

Kavanaugh's demeanor and combativeness was largely the opposite of the qualities needed on the nation's highest court -- and one of the institution's former members came to the same conclusion.

The Palm Beach Post's Lulu Ramadan reported this afternoon from a local event with retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a lifelong Republican, told a small crowd in Boca Raton that Judge Brett Kavanaugh's performance at confirmation hearings should disqualify him. "The Senators should pay attention to this."

Stevens said he once thought Kavanaugh "had the qualifications" to be a Supreme Court justice and even lauded Kavanaugh in one of his books for a ruling on political contributions. "His performance in the hearings changed my mind."

For context, it's worth emphasizing that Stevens was appointed to the Supreme Court by a Republican president, Gerald Ford, in 1975. Over the course of his lengthy career on the bench, however, Stevens became one of the high court's most progressive members, and ultimately was seen as a reliable "liberal" vote.

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Pence echoes Trump on dubious election-interference argument

10/04/18 04:11PM

Donald Trump spoke at a United Nations Security Council meeting last week, and while reading from a prepared text, the American president made a provocative accusation against China.

"China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election -- coming up in November -- against my administration," Trump alleged without evidence, adding, "We don't want to them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election."

This morning, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech announcing how right Trump was, accusing China of having "initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections."

From the prepared text:

"China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections. [...]

"When it comes to influencing the midterms, you need only look at Beijing's tariffs in response to ours. They specifically targeted industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election. By one estimate, more than 80% of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration."

Pence said an unnamed "member of our intelligence community" recently told him, "What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what the China is doing across this country."

The idea that China's election "meddling" is somehow worse than Russia's may be self-serving for this White House, but it's also tough to take seriously.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, for a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice continued...

Key GOP senators appear unmoved by FBI findings on Kavanaugh

10/04/18 12:40PM

With the FBI's background check into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh complete, today is the one and only day U.S. senators will have to review the bureau's findings before tomorrow's procedural vote on the chamber's floor. The preliminary reactions from members who privately reviewed the materials this morning tell us quite a bit about where this is headed.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who had the first chance to read the FBI's findings, said that the new report "found no hint of misconduct." Of course, according to his Democratic colleagues, the problem is that the FBI didn't speak to relevant witnesses who might've been able to provide more hints.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking member, said this morning that the report "looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited perhaps by the White House, I don't know." She added, "The most notable part of this report is what is not in it."

But the reactions from senators who've already made up their minds about how to vote on Kavanaugh are less significant than those from undecided lawmakers. It made quotes like these all the more notable.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a possible Kavanaugh swing vote, said she was still absorbing the new report. "It appears to be a very thorough investigation," she said. "But I'm going to go back to personally read the interviews."

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who's also suggested he's on the fence, told reporters this morning that the FBI examination contained "no additional corroborating information" on the allegations against the high court nominee. The Arizonan added, however, that he still intends to go back and read more of the report.

I'll concede that quotes like the ones we heard from Collins and Flake were hardly definitive, and there's some danger in speculating about the plans of those who haven't made formal announcements, but Kavanaugh and his allies have reason to be pleased with this morning's reactions.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.4.18

10/04/18 12:00PM

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

* Despite anxiety in Democratic circles about the incumbent's vulnerability, the latest Quinnipiac poll in New Jersey found Sen. Bob Menendez (D) leading Bob Hugin (R), 53% to 42%.

* The latest national NPR/PBS/Marist poll found Democrats leading Republican on the generic congressional ballot by just six points, 48% to 42%.

* Fox News released new poll results yesterday in five key U.S. Senate races. Long story short: the Republican is up big in North Dakota, but has a more modest lead in Tennessee. The Democratic candidates in Arizona and Indiana have small leads. And in Missouri, it's tied.

* Speaking of the Senate race in Arizona, a new Suffolk University/Arizona Republic poll found Kyrsten Sinema (D) with a modest lead over Martha McSally (R), 44.6% to 41.6%. That's roughly in line with modest recent polling in this race.

* In Michigan, Democrats are increasingly optimistic about the gubernatorial race for a reason: a new poll conducted for the Detroit News and WDIV found Gretchen Whitmer (D) leading Bill Schuette (R), 47% to 35%.

* In California, a new poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times by UC Berkeley's Institute for Governmental Studies looked at six competitive U.S. House races in the Golden State. Most of the results looked quite good for Democrats, which need a strong showing in California if they have any chance of taking back the chamber.

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Election will have a big impact on disclosure of Trump's tax returns

10/04/18 10:40AM

As most of the country probably knows, Donald Trump, ignoring his own promises, in 2016 became the first presidential candidate since Watergate to refuse to publicly release his tax returns. As scandals mounted, the significance of the materials grew, but the president refused to disclose the documents -- and congressional Republicans helped with Trump's secrecy.

Of course, there's at least a chance that GOP lawmakers won't have total control of Congress next year. As the Wall Street Journal reports, if Democrats take the reins, they'll also take a keen interest in the hidden tax filings.

Democrats will seek a firsthand look at President Trump's tax returns if they take control of the House or Senate after next month's election, according to the key lawmakers who would gain the authority to get the documents.

Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.), in line to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats win that chamber, said he would get the documents, which the president has declined to release voluntarily.

"Yes," Mr. Neal said when asked if he would request the returns. "We will do that."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) followed Mr. Neal on Wednesday, saying for the first time that he would request the tax returns if he became Finance Committee chairman in January.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, saw the WSJ report and was not pleased. "This is dangerous," the GOP congressman wrote this morning on Twitter. "Once Democrats abuse this law to make public [Trump's] tax returns, what stops them from prying/making public YOUR tax returns for political reasons? Who is next?" The missive included two hashtags: "#AbuseOfPower" and "#EnemiesList."

This isn't a good argument.

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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and rival candidate Donald Trump argue at the same time at the debate in Detroit, Mich., March 3, 2016. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

As Trump faces fraud allegations, his allies craft creative defenses

10/04/18 10:03AM

This week's reporting from the New York Times on Donald Trump's finances is so devastating, in normal political times, the revelations would effectively end his career. As we discussed yesterday, the newspaper's exhaustive research uncovered evidence of "dubious tax schemes" and "outright fraud" that Trump exploited to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from his father.

The findings paint a picture in which the president, far from the self-made man he pretends to be, relied heavily on illegal handouts. At the heart of the story is the prospect of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

Trump's response to the reporting was strikingly weak. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who failed to point to any inaccuracies in the article, described the revelations as "boring." But perhaps the most amazing response to the New York Times' reporting came from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was quoted this way by a CNN reporter yesterday.

"It's obviously -- I think it's a testament to how crazy and complicated the tax code is in general."

The funny thing is, this should be the point at which Rubio takes a victory lap. It was the Florida Republican who repeatedly warned the public a few years ago that Donald Trump is, as Rubio put it, a dangerous "con man" and a "con artist." The New York Times, in granular and undisputed detail, just proved the senator right.

And yet, to hear Rubio tell it, Trump's outright fraud isn't really his fault -- we should blame the complexities of the federal tax code for the president's flagrant and deliberate misdeeds.

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Dems have an edge with young voters, but will they show up?

10/04/18 09:20AM

The New York Times had an interesting report today exploring why so many Americans won't bother to vote in the midterm elections, despite the stakes, and despite the intensity of ongoing political tensions. Turnout is often depressed during midterm cycles -- presidential races tend to capture the public's attention -- and 2018 may well fall into the usual pattern.

There's a fair amount of evidence, however, that some voters are more likely to show up than others.

Loyola Law School's Justin Levitt yesterday highlighted the results of the latest report from Gallup, which found a majority of Americans claiming they are "absolutely certain" to vote in this year's elections. Despite months of chatter about an "intensity gap" between the parties, Gallup found roughly equal interest in the midterms among Democratic and Republican voters.

There was, however, a striking difference by age group. I made a chart to drive the point home:

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