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Obama era ends with steady job growth

01/06/17 08:47AM

President Obama won't leave office for another two weeks, but this morning brought the final jobs report of his second term. It offered the latest in a series of reminders that the president is handing off a healthy economy to his successor (who spent 2016 telling voters the economy is terrible).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, remains low, inching higher from 4.6% to 4.7%. It's the 15th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower. (Remember when Mitt Romney said he might be able to get the jobless rate down to 6% by the end of his first term? I do.)

As for the revisions, October's and November's job totals were both revised up, adding a net gain of 19,000.

Also of interest, this report showed a larger-than-expected hike in average hourly earnings, suggesting not only that job growth is steady, but American wages are improving, too.

Though the latest data still faces some revisions, the preliminary estimates now show the overall economy added 2.15 million new jobs in 2016, which is a pretty healthy number. What's more, December was the 75th consecutive month of positive job growth, which is the longest on record.

Remember, as we discussed last month, as far as Republicans are concerned, results like these were completely impossible. For the right, the combination of the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes, and assorted regulations would stifle job growth and push the economy into a recession, but the exact opposite happened. Nevertheless, Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers believe they'll "get the economy moving" by undoing the policies that brought us to this point.

We'll see how that works out.
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James Clapper, Keith Alexander

Following Trump's taunts, intelligence community returns fire

01/06/17 08:00AM

It started in earnest in August. Donald Trump, after accepting the Republican presidential nomination, was asked in advance of his first intelligence briefing whether he would trust the information. "Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country," the Republican replied.

Intelligence agencies, of course, said nothing in response, but the antagonism only intensified. In the months that followed, as intelligence professionals uncovered evidence of a Russian espionage operation, intended in part to help put Trump in the White House, Trump's mockery and taunts of U.S. agencies grew more frequent, though in each instance, officials remained publicly silent.

Yesterday, that changed. Leaders from intelligence agencies had a platform from which they could start to return fire against the president-elect that holds them in such low regard.
The nation's top intelligence official on Thursday defended his colleagues' findings that Russian agents interfered in the U.S. election -- and dismissed the credibility of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a day after the president-elect appeared to back him over the intelligence community.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also took a swipe at the president-elect for "disparaging" the intelligence community.
Remember, congressional Republican leaders have refused to create a special select committee to examine the Russian hacking scandal, but individual committee chairs can conduct their own scrutiny. In yesterday's case, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who's been quite animated on this issue, convened a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter.

The hearing ended up serving two related purposes: intelligence officials explained their findings on Russia's intervention in the American election -- they appear to have little doubt about what transpired, and the role of Vladimir Putin's government in ordering the cyber-attack -- while they also took more subtle steps to defend the integrity of the intelligence community against Donald Trump's attacks.

"I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement," Clapper said at one point.

Admiral Mike Rogers, commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, added, "What we do is in no small part driven in part by the confidence of our leaders in what we do -- and without that confidence, I just don't want a situation where our workforce decides to walk."

They didn't explicitly use the president-elect's name, but in context, they didn't have to.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.5.17

01/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this in the morning: "The nation's top intelligence official on Thursday defended his colleagues' findings that Russian agents interfered in the U.S. election -- and dismissed the credibility of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a day after the president-elect appeared to back him over the intelligence community."

* This will be one of his least controversial picks: "President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) to be his director of national intelligence, according to a Trump transition team official."

* What a dreadful story: "Criminal hate crime, aggravated kidnapping and other felony charges were filed against four young men and women who allegedly tortured and beat a bound and gagged man in Chicago, which they broadcast live on Facebook."

* An amazing figure: "The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to near a 43 year-low last week, pointing to further tightening in the labor market."

* Time to brush up on the Holman Rule: "House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker -- down to a $1 -- a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service."

* Farewell ceremony: "A solemn President Obama, in remarks directed at least partially at his successor, urged the U.S. military and the country on Wednesday never to abandon its 'core principles' as it fights the nation's wars."
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Image: Pelosi and Schumer talk about the Affordable Care Act in Washington

Republicans kick off their ACA repeal crusade

01/05/17 01:03PM

After seven years, the Republican crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act was supposed to have died two months ago -- with Donald Trump's defeat. Just enough Americans, however, including many who want, need, and rely on the ACA, put sweeping powers in the hands of far-right officials who desperately want to gut "Obamacare."

Yesterday, Republicans took their first step, initiating a legislative process with an uncertain destination. There's no shortage of angles to this fight, which I'll be reporting on quite a bit in the coming days, weeks, and months, but Bloomberg Politics had a report yesterday with an important quote from an unnamed GOP senator:
A Republican senator on condition of anonymity said the details of the repeal bill remain very uncertain. Originally, Republicans were planning to simply bring back the bill they put on Obama's desk last year for his veto.

But that bill was written knowing it wouldn't become law, and now some Republicans want to make tweaks to soften the blow of repeal.

"Even people who voted for this before are, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute, we knew that wasn't going to happen,'" said the senator. "There were no consequences." He said there's a growing sense among some of his colleagues that they need to have a replacement for Obamacare ready soon "because we're going to own this."
It's a fascinating perspective. Congressional Republicans held literally dozens of ACA repeal votes in recent years, knowing that they were just spinning their wheels in a self-indulgent vanity exercise. GOP lawmakers hardly had to think about what they were doing -- choosing instead to throw together ridiculous legislation that give their radicalized base a temporary sugar high.

But Americans have now asked a party that doesn't take public policy seriously, and has little use for substantive work, to be a governing party -- and suddenly, Republicans haven't the foggiest idea what to do. They know they hate "Obamacare," but they're less sure why, and even less sure still what to do about it. They're moving forward with a sudden realization that "consequences" count.

The "dog that caught the car" is easily the most overused cliche in this debate. It also happens to be true.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.5.17

01/05/17 12:00PM

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

* After mocking Democrats this morning, Donald Trump called for bipartisanship moments later, urging Republicans and Democrats to "get together and come up with a health care plan." I assume that means the president-elect doesn't have a plan of his own?

* Trump added that he's a "big fan" of "intelligence." Why he put the word "intelligence" in quotes wasn't clear.

* In a bit of a surprise, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D) is launching a gubernatorial campaign in Virginia today, setting up a big primary against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), whom many thought would run unopposed. Note, Virginia is one of only two states that will hold gubernatorial elections in 2017. In both Virginia and New Jersey, the incumbent cannot seek re-election.

* Trump will sit down this week for a sworn deposition "that could stretch for as long as seven hours." It's part of an ongoing civil dispute between the president-elect and chef Jose Andres.

* Senate Democratic leaders said this morning they want an investigation into Rep. Tom Price's (R-Ga.) health-care stock trades before his HHS nomination moves forward.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Oct. 21, 2016 in Johnstown, Pa. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Bonds strengthen between Trump and his favorite tabloid

01/05/17 11:23AM

It's not hard to think of news outlets that go out of their way to boost Donald Trump, but do any of them go quite as far as the National Enquirer?

I've passed by the tabloid countless times at grocery stores, and as best as I can tell, it's always focused largely on celebrity gossip: Celebrity A is having an affair with Celebrity B; Celebrity C is dying; Celebrity D is in rehab; etc. It's oddly fascinating, though, to see the National Enquirer take steps to add pro-Trump propaganda to its mission.

Its current cover, for example, tells readers President Obama has "ignited" a national security crisis, but Americans shouldn't worry -- because Donald Trump will "fix" the problem.

Last week's cover said in all-caps, "Lying Obamas Destroyed!" There's "proof," the National Enquirer added, that the president "was not" born in the United States.

The cover before that featured a big cover photo of Trump and his family. The cover before that assured readers that Trump is "taking charge" and has achieved "success in just 36 days!"

The cover before that insisted Trump will "save 25 million jobs!" The cover before that told readers that "Trump was right" about "Muslim spies in Obama's CIA!"

The cover before that said Trump's border wall will "smash" drug traffickers. The cover before that said Trump will do amazing things in his first 100 days -- alongside a headline that read, "We told you so." The cover before that said Hillary Clinton is "going to jail." The cover before that called Clinton a "corrupt, racist criminal."
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Giving Trump more information won't solve the problem

01/05/17 10:51AM

By the time the Republican National Convention got underway in July, Donald Trump was already auditioning for the role of America's biggest Vladimir Putin fan. CNBC's John Harwood asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) at the time whether Trump's affection for the Russian autocrat serves America's interests.

Cotton was confident that Trump was simply ignorant, which is a problem that could be solved. Putin "was a KGB spy and he never got over that," the Arkansas senator said, adding that after the presidential hopeful received classified briefings, Trump might have "a different perspective on Vladimir Putin and what Russia is doing to America's interests."

That didn't work out well. Trump started receiving classified intelligence briefings soon after Cotton made the comments, but the Republican quickly decided he didn't agree with the information presented to him. Instead of gaining a new "perspective," Trump willfully ignored the intelligence community's findings -- and started publicly taunting the agencies themselves.

Among some leading elected officials, however, hope springs eternal. Politico reported yesterday:
House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed confidence Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump will be "better informed" on Russian hacking after he's briefed by the intelligence community.

"I think he has not received his Russia briefing yet. I believe that's scheduled for Friday," the Wisconsin Republican told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning. "So hopefully, he'll get up to speed on what, you know, has been happening and what Russia has or has not done. And he'll be better informed on that."
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, added this morning that Trump may think differently about Russia's suspected espionage operation targeting the American election if only the president-elect attended more intelligence briefings.

Here's the problem: information only matters to those who are interested in learning. Donald Trump is not. The president-elect has a lengthy record of believing deeply strange conspiracy theories, showing little interest in reality-based facts. Providing him with intelligence briefings doesn't work, in part because he doesn't trust those providing him with the information, and in part because he has his own unique approach to critical thinking -- which filters out facts he doesn't like.
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Republican presidential candidates and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio shake hands at the end of the debate held by Fox News in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 28, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Trio of GOP senators unveil risky Jerusalem gambit

01/05/17 10:14AM

In 1995. Congress passed a law that empowered the United States to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but it came with a catch: U.S. presidents could delay the move for security reasons.

And that's precisely what every president has done since. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each signed waivers, keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. As CBS News reported, a trio of Republicans -- Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Dean Heller -- are pushing legislation that would remove what they consider a "loophole," and force the State Department to move the embassy now.
The measure, the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act ... would withhold "certain State Department funds until that relocation is complete."

The bill says that the State Department would be able to spend no more than half of what Congress will approve for embassy security, construction and maintenance for fiscal 2017 until the secretary of state determines and reports to Congress that the U.S. embassy has relocated to Jerusalem and has officially opened.
Moving the embassy, which Donald Trump claims to be eager to do, poses all kinds of challenges. Because of Jerusalem's unique significance -- politically, historically, religiously -- putting the U.S. embassy in the city would signal that the United States sees Jerusalem as Israel's official capital, which as CBS's report noted, would carry with it a series of "diplomatic and political repercussions."

But just as striking as the potential consequences are the kind of incentives the Republican senators have in mind: move the embassy, the trio's bill says, or they'll cut funding for embassy security in half.
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President Barack Obama (C) hugs an assembly line worker as he tours through the Chrysler Auto Plant in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2010.

Obama's auto-industry rescue continues to pay dividends

01/05/17 09:34AM

In 2015, American consumers broke a record for domestic auto sales. As the Washington Post reported, in 2016, consumers did it again.
U.S. drivers bought more new cars and trucks in 2016 than they ever have, edging out the record set just one year earlier to give the auto industry an unprecedented seventh consecutive year of sales growth. [...]

U.S. automakers, in particular, were able to match or exceed last year's sales totals.
From time to time, it's worth revisiting the political context for stories like these, because the recent history doesn't come up in political conversations anymore.

As regular readers know, in 2009, the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse. At the time, the Great Recession was already ravaging the economy and the jobs crisis was intensifying, and without an effective plan, hundreds of thousands of Americans -- employees of storied American companies -- were headed for the unemployment line.

President Obama took a gamble on an unpopular plan, which fortunately worked like a charm. As he prepares to exit the stage, the success of his industry rescue clearly belongs among his most notable accomplishments.

It also represents one of the Republicans' most obvious failures. GOP leaders were absolutely certain the White House policy would fail miserably, and they were hilariously wrong.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2016. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Without a hint of irony, McConnell decries high court obstructionism

01/05/17 08:43AM

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Rachel on the show this week that he's "absolutely" prepared to hold open the Supreme Court's vacancy, agreeing that Republicans effectively "stole" a high-court seat with their partisan blockade last year.

The comments did not escape the attention of his Republican counterpart.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed a pledge from his Democratic counterpart to block President-elect Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, insisting "the American people simply will not tolerate" such a move. [...]

"Apparently there's yet a new standard now, which is to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all," McConnell said, adding: "I think that's something the American people simply will not tolerate, and we'll be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it."
Look, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in the subtleties of Americans' attitudes on the federal judiciary, but if there's one thing the 2016 elections made abundantly clear, it's that most of the public couldn't care less about Supreme Court obstructionism. Senate Republicans, for 11 months, refused to even consider a moderate, compromise nominee -- and GOP senators had little trouble keeping their majority.

Ahead of Election Day, three Republican senators suggested they were prepared to block all Supreme Court nominees, regardless of merit, until 2021 at the earliest. Two of the three senators were on the ballot in November. Both won.

The American people "simply will not tolerate" senators refusing to confirm a high-court nominee? It's a nice idea, and there may have been a point at which I even agreed with the assertion. But McConnell, who somehow managed to make this argument with a straight face, has already provided all the proof we need to know how very wrong he is.
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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Confronted with intel he didn't like, Trump eyes major CIA changes

01/05/17 08:00AM

On Tuesday night's show, Rachel talked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about Donald Trump's overt hostility towards U.S. intelligence agencies. "You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you," the Democratic leader said. "So even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

When Rachel asked if the president-elect may have "an agenda to try to dismantle parts of the intelligence community," Schumer replied, "Whether you're a super liberal Democrat or a very conservative Republican, you should be against dismantling the intelligence community."

Just 24 hours later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump has some dramatic changes in mind at the agencies that have told him what he didn't want to hear.
President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation's top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.
Quoting sources familiar with Trump's plans, the Journal reported that the incoming president, who's publicly mocked and taunted intelligence professionals, intends to "restructure" the Central Intelligence Agency.

"The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world has become completely politicized," the source said. "They all need to be slimmed down."

We don't yet have any details about how many cuts would be involved in a "slimming down" and "paring back" of intelligence agencies, but it's the kind of sentiment that's bound to cause alarm in national security circles.
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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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