For years, the vast majority of the American mainstream has endorsed raising the minimum wage. But with Republicans dominating Congress, proponents have had to look for ways around the GOP's unyielding opposition.
The White House, for example, used executive powers to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors. A variety of state and municipal governments have done the same, with some increases coming by way of ballot referenda.
In the private sector, meanwhile, congressional Republicans obviously can't stop major businesses from doing what lawmakers won't do. Gap Inc. announced about a year ago that it would raise its minimum wage to $9 in 2014 -- and $10 this year – across all of its outlets and affiliated brands. A few months later, Ikea made a similar move.
And this morning, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC this morning that hundreds of thousands of its hourly staff are poised to get a raise of their own.
Wal-Mart said Thursday that hourly workers will earn at least $1.75 above the current federal minimum wage, or $9 per hour starting in April. By next February, they will earn at least $10 per hour.
Projections suggest this will translate to a pay raise for roughly 500,000 hourly employees.
The move doesn't apply to all Wal-Mart employees across the board -- hourly employees are roughly 40% of the company's workforce -- but given the size of the retail behemoth, this will nevertheless mean more money in the pockets of an enormous number of workers who need it.
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:
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has missed "a greater percentage of votes over the course of his career" than any other member of the Senate. Senators who launch presidential campaigns routinely miss a lot of votes, and the public is generally pretty understanding about candidates' poor attendance records. But Rubio keeps missing votes before launching a national bid, which means his bad record is about to get even worse.
* Jeb Bush was in Chicago yesterday, ostensibly to deliver a speech on foreign policy, but while he was there, the Republican raised $4.2 million for his presidential campaign in just two events.
* Speaking of money in politics, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will headline a "luncheon and policy discussion" at the Capitol Hill club right after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's March 3 speech to Congress. Sheldon Adelson has signed on as a co-chair for the fundraiser.
* Vice President Biden was in South Carolina yesterday with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as part of a "Grow America" tour on infrastructure needs. He said he'll decide about a 2016 presidential race by "the end of the summer."
* Missouri Democrats were eager to recruit a competitive candidate to take on Sen. Roy Blunt (R) next year, and they appear to have landed their top choice: Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) announced this morning he's running for the Senate. Kander is also a former state House member and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.
* Why do Republicans in New Hampshire and D.C. seem awfully concerned about Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R) re-election bid next year? Perhaps because Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has an approval/disapproval rating of 55%/25%.
Just a couple of days after the 2014 midterms, I joked that Americans should expect Republican victors to impose even more voting restrictions in light of the results. Not quite two months into the new year, it seems the offhand comment wasn't funny after all.
The state of Georgia, for example, has already taken steps to put hurdles between voters and the ballot box, and my colleague Zack Roth reported yesterday that Georgia officials aren't done just yet -- there's a new push to curtail early voting in the state.
A legislative committee voted on party lines last week to advance a bill that would shorten Georgia's early voting period to 12 days, from a current maximum of 21 days. It would also bar counties from offering more than four hours of voting on weekends. The state's early voting period was already cut dramatically just four years ago.
The new move comes after a 2014 election in which 44% of voters -- disproportionately minorities -- cast their ballot early. Many counties, responding to popular demand, offered Sunday voting for the first time.
Remember, when Republican officials impose voting restrictions, they usually try to defend the constraints by pointing to "voter fraud." The scourge is largely imaginary, and a thin pretense to keep people from participating in their own democracy, but that's the talking point and the GOP is sticking to it.
But defending efforts to narrow the early-voting window is much harder -- this is completely unrelated to potential fraud. Rather, Georgia Republicans appear eager to make it harder to get to the polls and cast a ballot, just for the sake of doing so.
This would be the second time in recent years state GOP policymakers shortened the early-voting window -- Georgia Republicans did the same thing after the 2010 midterms.
For months, members of Congress demanded that the White House write a proposal authorizing military force against ISIS. The demands never really made much sense, in part because the military offensive already started six months ago, and also because the legislative branch was perfectly capable of writing its own legislation. It just didn't want to.
President Obama nevertheless agreed to Congress' demands, presenting lawmakers with a proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Right on cue, many of the Republicans who demanded the draft language condemned the White House, insisting it didn't go nearly far enough in expanding the powers of the executive.
Yesterday, however, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) went just a little further, suggesting on Hugh Hewitt's conservative radio show that he's open to an even more expansive AUMF.
HEWITT: Now Chairman Royce, I am not an expert witness, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn recently, and I did work for Richard Nixon way back in the day on the Real War. And any AUMF that comes out of the Congress ought to be broad and cover every explosion of Islamist extremism, including if Iran goes nuclear. So I want to focus back on that. Do you, personally, I don't know what the committee will do, but would you support giving the President the explicit authority to strike at the Iranian nuclear capacity if they do not abandon it themselves?
ROYCE: I think it is a good idea, and I will tell you, Hugh, that there are two jihads going on. One of them is the ISIS jihad, which you and I are familiar with. The other is something that's not being talked about that much, but that is the jihad that's coming out of Iran... Point to a region, or an area in the Middle East or North Africa, where Iran is not engaged in exporting revolution and terror. And so we shouldn't take our eye off of that reality.
Hewitt called the response "an enormous relief." I had a different reaction.
During Jeb Bush's speech on foreign policy yesterday, Chris Cillizza was quick to praise the Republican. "What Bush is proving," the Washington Post reporter said, is that Jeb "doesn't need much coaching on foreign policy. He knows this stuff cold."
That's one way to look at the former governor's remarks. There is, however, another.
We can start with Bush's clumsy oratory, which was at times legitimately cringe-worthy. Dana Milbank noted the unfortunate family tradition.
When he addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs luncheon at the Fairmont, he combined his father's awkward oratory with his brother's mangled syntax and malapropisms.[...]
"As we grow our presence by growing our ability to produce oil and gas," Bush went on, "we also make it possible to lessen the dependency that Russia now has on top of Europe." Russia's dependency on top of Europe? It was, in addition to being backward, a delightful echo of his brother's belief that it is hard "to put food on your family."
Bush said "Iraq" when he meant "Iran." He mispronounced the names of leaders, countries, and groups. He clumsily leaned on the most notorious passive-voice phrase in politics. The Republican at one point said ISIS is comprised of "a fighting force of more than 200,000 battle tested men," which is at odds with all available intelligence on the group, and which even Bush's staff later said was wrong.
At another point in the speech, Jeb declared, "Our military is not a discretionary expense." Military spending is, quite literally, a discretionary expense.
Ari Fleischer told the New York Times yesterday, "Jeb is very much a policy wonk and comes across that way." I heard the speech; this praise is wildly misplaced; he comes across as largely the opposite.
It's been 18 years since Rudy Giuliani actually won an election, but the former Republican mayor still fancies himself an important political player. Indeed, his self-proclaimed relevance leads him to make all kinds of public appearances, where Giuliani has an unfortunate habit of saying dumb things.
Rudy Giuliani went straight for the jugular Wednesday night during a private group dinner here featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by openly questioning whether President Barack Obama "loves America."
The former New York mayor, speaking in front of the 2016 Republican presidential contender and about 60 right-leaning business executives and conservative media types, directly challenged Obama's patriotism.
According to the Politico report, Giuliani told the audience, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, was ostensibly the featured guest at the event. He was seated near Giuliani during his condemnations of the president, but said nothing.
On Fox News this morning, Giuliani added, "I'm not questioning his patriotism."
No, of course not. All Giuliani is saying is that the war-time president who rescued the country from the Great Recession doesn't love America or Americans. Why would anyone see that as an attack on Obama's patriotism?
Look, I realize Giuliani has effectively become a caricature of himself, and there's no point in getting worked up every time the mayor makes a stupid comment, because it happens far too often. The poor guy doesn't even seem to understand what the word "patriotism" means anymore.
But there's a broader context to this that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
It was a little discouraging to see initial unemployment claims climb above 300,000 three of the last five weeks, but today's news helps set minds at ease.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits sank by 21,000 to 283,000 in the seven days from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14, signaling that layoffs remain low and the pace of the hiring in the U.S. is still strong. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 290,000 from an unrevised 304,000 in the first week of February.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, declined by 6,500 to 283,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest level since late October and the second lowest since the recovery began five and a half years ago.
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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 19 of the last 23 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 three of the last six weeks.
At a White House event yesterday, President Obama described terrorists in a direct and constructive way. "Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy," he explained. "They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam.... We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders -- they're terrorists."
The president's comments came less than a day after Bill O'Reilly adopted the exact opposite posture -- the terrorists characterize their efforts as part of a holy war, and now, the Fox News host does, too.
"The holy war begins.... The holy war is here. And unfortunately it seems the President of United States will be the last one to acknowledge it.... President Obama needs to lead -- needs to lead the world in this holy war."
Monica Crowley, one of O'Reilly's guests, cheered the host on. "I think your call tonight is a very important move," Crowley said on the show. "I think it's long overdue. I give you kudos. I also give you kudos for using the phrase 'holy war.''
It's tempting to dismiss this as irresponsible nonsense -- which will likely be celebrated by some of the same people O'Reilly opposes -- but let's not brush past this too quickly.
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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