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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.28.14

08/28/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Crisis in Ukraine: "Asserting that Russian soldiers and armaments had crossed into Ukraine to support the separatists, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine canceled a trip to Turkey on Thursday, and his national security council ordered mandatory conscription for the armed forces."
* United Nations: "Alarmed members of the U.N. Security Council demanded Thursday that Russia remove its fighters from a new front in the Ukraine crisis, while the U.S. ambassador accused Moscow of having 'outright lied.'"
* Middle East: "President Obama said he will send Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East in an effort to build a coalition of 'strong regional partners' to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."
* The media seemed a little too preoccupied with the president's suit this afternoon, but Obama's press conference covered quite a bit of substantive ground, with Q&A on Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, immigration, and the economy. Here's a transcript.
* Gillibrand's right: "MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell is less than surprised by the revelations of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) about being subjected to sexual harassment by her congressional colleagues.... 'We all had our stories of whom you'd not get in an elevator with and whom you'd protect your young female interns from,' Mitchell told her guests."
* Keep an eye on this: "Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday called on GOP leaders to launch a floor debate on the Obama administration's use of force against Islamic militants in Iraq. But the House minority leader stopped short of insisting that lawmakers vote on the issue, as some of her liberal troops are urging."
* Not the first time: "Immigration protesters ambushed Rep. Paul D. Ryan Wednesday as the Wisconsin Republican signed books at a Barnes & Noble" in Thornton, Colorado.
* The same general was suspended from his duties last year: "An Army general who was found to have mishandled an accusation of sexual assault has been forced to retire with a reduced rank, the Defense Department said on Wednesday."
Hillary Rodham Clinton pauses while speaking at an event to discuss her new book in Washington, D.C., June 13, 2014.

Hillary Clinton addresses Ferguson crisis, says U.S. is 'better than that'

08/28/14 04:11PM

At a certain level, calls for public comment on the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were a little awkward. She is, after all, a private citizen who holds no office. Clinton remained silent, but so too did other former Secretaries of State like Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell -- and no one found their silence politically problematic.
That said, though Clinton is not even a candidate for any public office, it's also fair to characterize her as more than just a former cabinet official. She maintains a unique leadership position in American public life and it was not unreasonable to think Clinton would weigh in on the national conversation.
Today, as my msnbc colleague Alex Seitz-Wald reported, the former Secretary of State did exactly that.
Hillary Clinton broke her silence Thursday on the shooting of Michael Brown, addressing the tragedy that tipped off two weeks of racially fraught violence in Ferguson, Missouri for the first time during a speech at a tech conference in San Francisco.
"Watching the recent funeral for Michael Brown, as a mother, as a human being, my heart just broke for his family. Because losing a child is every parent's greatest fear and an unimaginable loss," she said at the beginning of her paid remarks to the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit. "But I also grieve for that community and for many like it across our country."
Clinton spoke for nearly five minutes, but did not use notes or a teleprompter.
Beyond the shooting death itself, Clinton went on to reflect on the systemic and institutional issues that helped spark local protests, "We can't ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality," she said. "Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around."
Clinton went on to praise the White House's handling of the crisis. "I applaud President Obama for sending the attorney general to Ferguson and demanding a thorough and speedy investigation," she said, "to find out what happened, to see that justice is done, to help this community begin healing itself."
As for the shocking images associated with the police response to Ferguson protests, Clinton added, "This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray. Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone, not in America. We are better than that."

Economic growth improves a little more

08/28/14 03:21PM

Economic growth in the first quarter looked pretty dreadful -- one of the worst since the end of the Great Recession -- but nearly everyone involved in the debate saw it as something of a fluke. The key to knowing for sure would be the GDP report for the second quarter.
The preliminary tally looked quite encouraging. The revised GDP looks even better.
The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster 4.2% annual pace in the second quarter, mainly because businesses invested more in buildings and equipment than previously reported, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Initially the government said the U.S. expanded at a seasonally adjusted 4% clip. Economists polled by MarketWatch predicted gross domestic product would be revised down a tick, but business investment and net exports were stronger than expected.
And this, in a nutshell, is why so few panicked over the first-quarter data.
Jason Furman, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, added, "Looking at four- and eight-quarter changes to smooth some of the quarter-to-quarter volatility, it is clear that many components of GDP are showing improvement. The growth rates of consumer spending, business investment and exports have all picked up, and the pace of declines in the Federal sector have moderated a bit. In addition, the State and local government sector has turned positive, after several years of steady cutbacks."
 In this photo taken Friday, October 11, 2013, Doug Bearden, Jonathan Branyon and Christine Reno, from left, wave flags and hold an "Impeach Obama" sign

House Republican says impeachment talk can 'proceed' after midterms

08/28/14 12:38PM

You may not have heard, but we're apparently in the middle of "National Impeach Obama Week." No, seriously. The Washington Post reported the other day that a "persistent group of activists" created the "Coalition to Impeach Obama Now!" -- the exclamation point is a literal part of the group's name -- and declared this week to be the focus of their efforts. The campaign is supposed to include waving signs on overpasses.
As best as I can tell, the coalition hasn't exactly enjoyed broad success. That said, BuzzFeed reported yesterday that Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) told his constituents that there's a "slim" chance the House will move forward on impeachment -- but President Obama's critics will have to wait until after this year's midterm elections.
A Republican congressman said there's a "slim" chance that President Obama will be impeached, and if the House began impeachment proceedings, they would probably fail and cost the Republican Party a chance at winning the Senate. [...]
[Merchant] added "the will of the American people is not there" and said if Republicans went against that and attempted to impeach Obama there would be "a violent reaction" that would keep Republicans from winning the Senate. He said Republicans should wait until after the November elections to "proceed on that question."
I realize this chatter has largely faded from the political world's radar. The more Republicans talked up the idea of going after Obama with a new impeachment crusade, the more Democrats raised money, prompting many GOP officials to dial down the rhetoric.
But it's amazing how frequently this continues to come up.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.28.14

08/28/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* The latest New York Times analysis gives Republicans a 65% chance of winning the Senate majority. The latest Sam Wang analysis out of Princeton gives Democrats a 70% chance of keeping their Senate majority. Both are credible reports based on reliable data. Stay tuned.
* In Wisconsin's very competitive gubernatorial race, the latest Marquette Law School poll shows Mary Burke (D) edging past incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) among likely voters, 48.6% to 46.5%.
* Speaking of close Midwestern gubernatorial contests, the new EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan has Mark Schauer (D) also taking a narrow lead against incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder (R), 45% to 43% (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, the new USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Bruce Braley (D) and Joni Ernst (R) tied at 40% each. It's the second poll this week to show these results.
* Speaking of Iowa, in 2016 polling, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) support among Hawkeye State Republicans went up seven points after he was indicted on two felony counts.
* In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) isn't just on track to lose his re-election bid, the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll suggests he's poised to suffer a landslide defeat. The poll shows Tom Wolf (D) with a surprising 25-point advantage over the incumbent.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, Nov. 19, 2013.

New York's Gillibrand shines a light on Capitol Hill harassment

08/28/14 11:36AM

When Mike Huckabee commented on contraception, women, and "their libidos" in April, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was disappointed, but she said the remark "doesn't stand out as anything unusual from what we hear" on Capitol Hill. She added at the time, "You don't have a long enough show for me to go into what you hear around here from the members of Congress."
Not surprisingly, Pelosi isn't the only woman on Capitol Hill who's been disturbed by offensive comments from men.
If there was any question as to whether sexual harassment exists among members of Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) confirmed the answer in a new interview with People magazine.
According to excerpts from the interview obtained in advance by the New York Post, the congresswoman recalled multiple male colleagues making disparaging comments about her body as she struggled with her weight after having a child.
One unidentified Southern lawmaker reportedly told Gillibrand, "You know, Kirsten, you're even pretty when you're fat." Another told her at the House gym, "Good thing you're working out, because you wouldn't want to get porky!"
When she was elevated to the U.S. Senate, Gillibrand says an older colleague squeezed her waist from behind and said, "Don't lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby."
There is no workplace in the nation in which this would be considered acceptable. And yet, here's a senator describing her experiences in the building in which federal laws are made.
As inexcusable as these male lawmakers' conduct is, it's important for perspectives like Gillibrand's to be heard. Congress has a reputation for being a hostile work environment for many women -- lawmakers and staffers alike -- and the more we hear from those who've been harassed, the more likely it is conditions will change.
So why would anyone be skeptical of Gillibrand's claims?
President Barack Obama speaks  at an event, June 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Obama eyes plan to circumvent Congress on climate agreement

08/28/14 10:56AM

President Obama has already acted more than once to combat the climate crisis through executive action, largely by relying on the Clean Air Act. While the White House acted last year to apply regulatory safeguards to new power plants, this year, Obama unveiled rules that apply to power plants that are already operating, pumping carbon pollution into the environment right now.
To be sure, these policy breakthroughs matter, but given the severity of the global crisis, officials here and around the world realize far more must be done. As Coral Davenport reported this week, the White House is already eyeing the next step.
The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.
In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world's largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution.
You'll notice the word "agreement," rather than the word "treaty." That's not an accident.
In theory, U.S. officials could meet with international leaders and begin negotiations on a new climate treaty to be ratified by participating nations. But foreign policy in the United States has entered a post-treaty phase -- Republicans won't even allow a vote on a minimum-wage increase, so the idea of getting 67 votes for a climate treaty is plainly ridiculous.
And with this in mind, and facing potentially catastrophic consequences, U.S. officials have had to get creative.
A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

Why the odds of a government shutdown are growing

08/28/14 10:12AM

Funding for the federal government expires at the end of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 at midnight -- and for months, everyone in Washington assumed the odds of another shutdown were zero. Just this week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) dismissed the very idea of another standoff as absurd.
House Republicans "will pass a clean" spending bill, Ryan assured the public, and that will be that. Congress will only work 10 days in September, following its five-week summer break, but that should be plenty of time to approve a straightforward measure (called a "continuing resolution") to keep the government's lights on.
And with roughly a month to go, that may yet happen. But just over the last 48 hours, there's new reason to believe the odds of a shutdown are improving.
Indeed, The Atlantic's Molly Ball published an important piece yesterday with two particularly noteworthy paragraphs.
A well-placed House Republican source tells me GOP leadership is increasingly nervous about the potential for a rebellion on the funding bill. The small but influential hard core of House conservatives were emboldened by what happened earlier this month with the border bill: A proposal favored by Speaker John Boehner to address the border crisis with emergency funding and expedited deportations had to be pulled when conservatives, egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, revolted. The legislation the House passed instead had a smaller price tag and would bar President Obama from continuing his policy of allowing some young undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. The Democrat-led Senate, meanwhile, did not manage to pass its own version of border legislation at all, so Congress failed to act on the issue.
House conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Steve King considered the episode a major victory. Bachmann called it a highlight of her career. Now, Republican leaders are worried that conservatives will not go along with a simple government-funding bill unless it reflects their priorities.
And what priorities might those be? I'm glad you asked.
The U.S. Capitol is shown at sunset in Washington, D.C.

A congressional excuse takes shape on ISIS?

08/28/14 09:43AM

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, agrees that it would be "wise for Congress to come together and draft a grant of some authority" for President Obama to use force against ISIS targets in the Middle East. Smith just doesn't think it's possible -- not "in a million years."
"There is simply no way on earth that members of Congress are going to come together and agree on what the language for an authorization for the use of force in Syria is -- it's just not going to happen," Smith told the New York Times yesterday.
Of course, if Smith is correct, and I suspect he is, that's likely to cause a problem. Indeed, with the Obama administration launching airstrikes against ISIS targets and eyeing possible intervention in Syria, Congress' reluctance to meet its constitutional obligations is already a problem.
So what comes next? Some of this debate will have to wait -- lawmakers are still on their five-week break, and no one has even raised the possibility of them returning to work ahead of schedule. That said, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) made some interesting remarks yesterday afternoon.
Congress should not give President Obama additional authority to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) until the administration provides a strategy for defeating the militant group, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.
McKeon said ISIS must be targeted, but that would demand a "comprehensive strategy" from the White House. "This comprehensive approach may well require additional authorities from Congress, but speculation about that before the president has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse," the congressman said.
The California Republican added that the president must "explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed."
As best as I can tell, this was a new posture for GOP leaders, and though this is admittedly speculative, I think it offers a hint of the road ahead.
An UZI Pistol Model B

Uzi accident sparks debate about children and guns

08/28/14 09:04AM

It was the kind of story that was hard to miss yesterday. A 9-year-old girl, on vacation with her family, was given an Uzi to fire at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Ariz. When the child couldn't control the submachine gun's recoil, she accidentally killed her instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca.
It's generating some overdue conversation.
In the aftermath of the tragic death of a gun-range instructor killed by a 9-year-old girl who wasn't able to control an Uzi 9mm submachine gun, many are raising questions about whether it is safe -- or even legal -- for young children to handle powerful firearms.
Arizona, where the incident happened on Monday, is one of 21 states that has no laws restricting the access of guns to minors under 18, as long as there is adult supervision.
Twenty-nine states have child access prevention laws. Fourteen prohibit someone from "intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly providing some or all firearms to children," according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Arizona Republic's E.J. Montini ran a compelling piece with a notable headline: "Why do we allow a child to handle an Uzi?"
The columnist wrote, "Arizona law allows a minor to possess a weapon if accompanied by a parent, guardian or an instructor. But this type of weapon? It's time we asked ourselves: Why would a shooting range allow a kid to handle an automatic weapon? Why would a parent? And, most importantly, why would a state?"
A New York Times report added that these ranges have become popular tourist attractions. People can "fire the weapons of their dreams: automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers. A hamburger lunch is included; a helicopter tour of the nearby Grand Canyon is optional."
And while the public comes to terms with the propriety of these activities, we might also want to ask a related question: who's in charge of the NRA's social-media operation?

Jobless claims inch lower, remain below key threshold

08/28/14 08:38AM

For several years, those rooting for the U.S. job market to improve found it hard to imagine initial unemployment claims dropping below the 300,000 threshold. Now, it's happening all the time. Take the latest data from the Labor Department, for example.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week remained below 300,000, suggesting little likelihood that a brightening outlook for the labor market will dim anytime soon. Initial claims edged down by 1,000 to 298,000 in the seven days ended Aug. 23 and remained near an eight-year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
What's more, the average of new claims over the past month fell by 1,250 to 299,750. The monthly figure smooths out the jumpiness in the weekly data and offers a better look at underlying trends in the labor market.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 22 of the last 25 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last six weeks.)
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, August 21, 2014.

Rick Perry, still a little forgetful

08/28/14 08:00AM

It's been nearly two weeks since Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was indicted on two felony counts, and at this point, some critics of the indictment are still struggling with the basic details. That includes the governor himself.
Over the weekend, for example, Peggy Noonan told a national television audience the case against Perry is an example of "local Democratic overreach." Reminded that this doesn't make sense -- local Dems weren't involved in any way -- Noonan said the case "looks crazy" anyway.
A day prior, Perry seemed just as confused. The Houston Chronicle suggested it might be another "oops moment" for the Texas governor.
As Gov. Rick Perry addressed business leaders in New Hampshire last Friday, he was asked about the two-count felony indictment  he's facing back home.
His answer, according to ABC News: "I've been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really understand the details here."
Bribery? Really?
The "details," for what it's worth, are that Perry was indicted on two counts: "abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public official." The governor may think he was charged with bribery, but he was not.
The broader question, however, is why Perry, a likely presidential candidate, seems so confused. I realize the governor isn't, shall we say, detail-oriented, but he's facing two felony counts. If convicted, the penalty could include jail time.
Sure, there are going to be legal nuances to the case that can be left to attorneys, but maybe Perry should at least know what he's been charged with?

Russian invasion? and other headlines

08/28/14 07:56AM

Ukraine president: Russian forces have invaded. (LA Times)

White House preps legal case for immigration steps. (AP)

U.S. to consider spousal abuse in immigration claims. (AP)

GOP poll of women: Party 'stuck in past.' (Politico)

St. Louis County police chief has no regrets about Ferguson tactics. (Daily Intelligencer)

Detroit is offered a $4b loan if it uses art collection as collateral. (Detroit News)

The US Air Force can't find a downed fighter jet and the Quiet Zone might be why. (Jalopnik)

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