When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) angrily disagrees with President Obama, it's about as common as the sunrise. But when McCain reject his own views from a few years ago, something more important is happening.
Yesterday, for example, McCain issued a joint press statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), offering a rather predictable condemnation.
"We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today's chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama's watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?"
To be sure, the rhetoric is stale and tiresome. Almost all of this, practically word for word, has been a staple of McCain press releases for six years. The point is hardly subtle: when it comes to foreign policy and international affairs, whatever President Obama supports, John McCain opposes, whether it makes sense or not.
That's not the interesting part. Rather, what McCain neglected to mention yesterday is the fact that he used to support the very changes the Obama White House announced yesterday.
With the calendar year nearly over, those hoping to see 2014 end on an encouraging economic note will be pleased with the new Labor Department report on initial unemployment claims.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 to 289,000 in the seven days ended Dec. 13, keeping initial jobless claims at a low level typically associated with strong hiring. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 295,000. Initial claims are often quite volatile in the period stretching from Thanksgiving until the end of January because of the holiday season and poor weather.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped by 750 to 298,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
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 300,000 in 14 of the last 15 weeks.
We've grown accustomed to some clear divisions among Republicans on foreign policy, with the Dick Cheney wing of the GOP aggressively at odds with the Rand Paul wing. It's not exactly a 50-50 split -- the former contingent is vastly larger than the latter -- but it's the basis for some spirited intra-party debates.
These fights are largely about military intervention abroad and the utility of using force. They're not, however, the sole basis for Republican disagreements.
For example, one of the lead stories on Politico this morning said Republicans are "livid" over President Obama's new U.S. policy towards Cuba, and there's obviously a great deal of truth to this.
Leading Republicans reacted with outrage Wednesday over the Obama administration's move to normalize relations with Cuba, with some casting it as appeasement and the product of blackmail by the communist Castro government.
GOP critics of the White House's announcement weren't hard to find yesterday. Every Republican who's likely to run for president in 2016 was eager to tell news organizations how outraged they are, as were many GOP congressional leaders. As the day progressed, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) seemed to be having a competition of sorts, with each effectively saying, "No, I'm more enraged than you."
It's hard to know how much of this was sincere and how much of it was knee-jerk opposition to everything the president says, but either way the Republican posturing puts the party at odds with the American mainstream. David Graham noted yesterday, "[I]n every Gallup poll since 1999, a majority of Americans have wanted to normalize relations with Cuba, with the number varying between 55 and 71 percent in favor. And bare majorities -- or in one 2000 poll, a plurality -- have also supported ending the U.S. embargo against the country."
More important, however, is the degree to which the Republican posturing also masked GOP support for Obama's policy shift.
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the history of relations between Cuba and the United States, the ways the U.S. has tried to pressure Cuba, and how history will likely view the new relationship. watch
Rachel Maddow points out the large number of Cuban defectors in the American arts and sports communities who are about to become powerful lobbying voices for further breaking down the embargo wall between the United States and Cuba. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on an especially big day for Pope Francis who is not only credited with brokering a historic deal between the U.S. and Cuba, but who also celebrated his birthday, with thousands turning out to tango in St. Peter's Square. watch
Alan Gomez, immigration reporter for USA Today, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County and around the U.S. received the news of a new policy toward Cuba and the likely political battle to come in implementing that policy. watch
David Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about the degree of certainty of the U.S. assessment that North Korea is behind the hack of Sony Pictures and the subsequent terror threat against movie... watch
Rachel Maddow lists the few countries with whom the United States does not have diplomatic relations, a list now one country shorter as President Obama has announced the re-opening of relations with Cuba. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on U.S. efforts to pressure Cuba through isolation and embargo and a series of covert strategies that have failed for fifty years, leading to a growing willingness among Americans to try a new approach. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews the remarkable events of a day in which the United States and Cuba took their relationship in a historic new direction, with an exchange of prisoners and the first direct contact between leaders since 1959. watch
Rachel Maddow revisits the history of spying and counter spying between the United States and Cuba, including the conviction of the Cuban Five, behind the prisoner exchange that was a key component of the re-opening of diplomatic relations. watch