President Barack Obama is expected to speak Tuesday at the memorial service honoring Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in South Africa. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes spoke with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to South Africa, saying the president has been working on the remarks, but the timing of when in the program he will speak still remains to be set.
Rhodes said the president would like the opportunity to pay his respects to the Mandela family, but whether or not that kind of meeting will take place on this short visit remains unclear. Obama will likely meet with South African President Zuma, but "not in any formal way" and Rhodes says he does not expect the president to participate in any bilateral meetings on this trip, including with any Iranian leaders.
Don’t sleep on the economy when it comes to 2014… An improving economy could benefit a lot of incumbents, Democratic or Republican… But has the economy really turned a corner? We’ve been down this road before… The top political story for later this week: the possible budget deal… The Obamas (and Bushes and Clintons) head to South Africa… Over the weekend, Obama talked Iran and nukes… The 2014 establishment vs. Tea Party GOP primaries… And watching the potential indie candidates.
Joshua Roberts / REUTERS
A statue stands in the Capitol Rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington in this July 31, 2011 file photo.
*** Don’t sleep on the economy: Republicans are convinced next year's midterm elections will be fought over President Obama's health-care law. Democrats counter the midterms will be about the GOP's brand and obstruction, especially after the government shutdown. But Friday's solid job numbers were a reminder that there's another issue could play a more powerful force in 2014 -- a healing economy. In the past 12 months alone, the economy has added a combined 2.3 million jobs and the unemployment rate has declined nearly a point to 7.0% (the lowest level in five years), despite the sequester and government shutdown. Make no mistake: That's not close to full employment, and long-term unemployment has been a persistent problem. Yet the evidence available suggests that sour attitudes about the economy (perhaps due to the shutdown) might be lagging current economic performance. “The headwinds are fading and the tailwinds are gaining strength,” a Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist told the New York Times. And six months from now, say, vulnerable Democratic senators and vulnerable GOP governors COULD have a positive message to tell next year to constituents that’s backed up by the facts: "The economy is getting better and better each month."
*** An improving economy could benefit a lot of incumbents, Democratic and Republican: How could an improving economy help vulnerable Democrats? Consider that stronger attitudes about the economy and nation’s direction could raise the president’s job-approval rating five, six, or seven points. Democrats’ chances next year are much better if Obama’s approval is in the high 40s than the low 40s. (It’s striking that Obama right now is experiencing his lowest approval ratings at a time of the lowest unemployment rate in his presidency. Has the public really decoupled the economy from the presidency?) Then there are the vulnerable GOP governors in states like Florida (where the unemployment rate is 6.5%), Maine (6.7%), Ohio (7.5%), Pennsylvania (7.5%), and Wisconsin (6.5%). The unemployment rate dropping another full point in these states would represent quite the talking point for these governors. Ditto vulnerable Democratic governors in Colorado (6.8%), Connecticut (7.9%), and Illinois (8.9%).
*** But we’ve also been down this road before: That the economy might be a sleeper issue in the coming midterms should be jarring for everyone who covered the 2012 presidential election, when every jobs report -- every piece of economic data -- launched a thousand political stories. But come Nov. 2014, there's the real possibility that the national unemployment rate could be close to 6.0%, and the economy could be adding 200,000 jobs per month. And if that's the case, all we're saying is the midterm environment could be MUCH different -- for Democrats, for Republican governors -- than the conventional wisdom suggests. Then again, every time it seems like the economy has taken two steps forward, we get a later reminder that it's taken a step back. For instance, the robust third quarter GDP number was filled with a lot of companies doing “inventory replacement,” big purchases that likely won’t be replicated for another few quarters. That means we could be back to a mediocre 2% growth again. Point is: We’ve been down this road before…
*** Let’s make a (budget) deal: The top political story for later this week, however, is the possible budget deal that Democrats and Republicans are trying to strike. As the Washington Post puts it, the deal would more represent a ceasefire than a true budget breakthrough. “Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation’s airline passengers.” Don’t miss this line in the Washington Post piece: “The campaign to control the debt is ending ‘with a whimper, not a bang,’ said Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates debt reduction. ‘That this can be declared a victory is an indicator of how low the process has sunk. They haven’t really done anything except avoid another crisis.’” Of course, avoiding another crisis is a major accomplishment in today’s political climate, right? And it paves the way for stronger attitudes about the economy, as we mentioned above. If government budget showdowns are in the rearview mirror for a year or two, then it’s possible that adds to the positive economic news.
*** Obama heads to South Africa: President Obama and the first lady (along with the Bushes and Clintons) today head to South Africa to attend the memorial services for the late Nelson Mandela on Tuesday. Obama is expected to return to the United States on Wednesday. NBC’s Brian Williams is anchoring “Nightly News” live from South Africa. Meanwhile, for its daily health-care push, the Obama administration will highlighting the millions of lower-income Americans who will get health insurance through Medicaid expansion -- as well as the millions who won’t (due to their states deciding not to expand it).
*** Obama talks Iran, nuclear weapons: Over the weekend, President Obama talked Iran and the Middle East at the Saban Forum in DC. Perhaps the biggest news at the event was Obama saying there’s only a 50%-50% chance -- at best -- to get a long-term deal with Iran on its nuclear weapons. “If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50,” he said. Interestingly, Obama’s remarks were carried live in Israel; it was a BIG story there. In addition, The Hill reports that the president is sending two top diplomats to stop new sanctions on Iran, which could scuttle any deal. “Secretary of State John Kerry and his lead Iran negotiator, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, will testify in public before House and Senate panels about the preliminary deal reached last month in Geneva. Their goal: Convince skeptical lawmakers that levying new punishments on Iran could derail the sensitive nuclear negotiations.”
*** Establishment vs. the Tea Party (and old vs. young): With Friday’s news that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) will seek re-election, setting up a competitive race against Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, one of us wrote that there will be at least half a dozen Senate GOP primaries next year essentially pitting the Republican establishment against the Tea Party. Our list:
-- Cochran vs. McDaniel in Mississippi;
-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. Matt Bevin in Kentucky;
-- Sen. Lindsey Graham vs. a crowded field in South Carolina;
-- Sen. Pat Roberts vs. Milton Wolf in Kansas;
-- Sen. Lamar Alexander vs. Joe Carr in Tennessee;
-- Sen. Mike Enzi vs. Liz Cheney in Wyoming;
-- and the crowded field in Georgia vying to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Yet there's also something going on in these races beyond ideology or the establishment vs. the Tea Party. It's age -- or longevity in the Senate. Cochran was first elected to the Senate in 1978; Enzi in 1996; Roberts in 1996; and Alexander and Graham in 2002. As the Club for Growth put it in its statement opposing Cochran and supporting McDaniel, “Throughout his over 40 years in Washington..."
*** Watching the indie candidates in 2014: And in other 2014 news, South Carolina’s State newspaper reports that former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R) might run for governor next year -- as an independent. “I’m hearing more and more people say they are fed up with the two-party system,” Bauer said. “And they have asked me about running.” Bauer is a VERY flawed candidate, but we’re believers that his message (“people are fed up with the two-party system) is a potentially powerful one for folks in 2014. Just something to keep an eye on…
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*** Monday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: Moody’s Ryan Sweet joins Chuck to discuss the economy, in today’s Deep Dive, White House press corps photographers Charlie Dharapak and Brooks Kraft discuss the dispute with the White House over access to the president. Also, Chuck will be joined by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, USA Today’s Susan Page, Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Republican ad maker Brad Todd to discuss the pulse of swing voters. Plus: the latest from South Africa on Nelson Mandela memorial services, and the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore on the winter weather affecting most of the country.
*** Monday’s “Jansing & Co” line-up: Guests include Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown, National Journal’s Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democratic strategist Danny Vargas, Democratic strategist Jason Stanford, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), and the SEIU’s Eliseo Medina.
*** Monday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: Guests include DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), MSNBC’S Ronan Farrow, the Daily Beast’s Jamelle Bouie and MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan.
*** Monday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera, and the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart.
*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews NBC's Ron Allen in Soweto, Maya Angelou, Congressman John Lewis, Washington Post's Michael Gerson, former Ambassador to South Africa Princeton Lyman, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus, and AFT president Randi Weingarten
*** Monday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews former Clinton aide Dan Rosenthal (about the time crunch in planning for President Obama’s trip to South Africa), Michael Griffin (a gay teacher fired after applying for a marriage license), Sirius XM radio show host Michael Smerconish, and investigative crime reporter Michelle Sigona.
The AP: "President Barack Obama will pay tribute this week to Nelson Mandela, making the long trip from Washington to South Africa Monday to attend a national memorial service for the anti-apartheid icon. Tuesday's memorial service will also serve as a rare reunion of nearly all the living American presidents. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will accompany Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Air Force One, while former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will travel separately to South Africa."
Politico: "Presidential travel overseas is usually months in the making — but President Barack Obama’s trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s Tuesday memorial service will be the end result of a process measured in mere hours."
Now that Israel is fully clued-in on the Iran deal, its leaders are toning down the rhetoric. Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the Saban Forum that he’s willing to give diplomacy a chance, as long as it is “coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat.” That’s something President Obama has said all along. The Hill: “Netanyahu’s comments indicate Israel is toning down its rhetoric over the threat of Iran. Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose post is ceremonial, said Sunday in Tel Aviv that he’s even willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.”
The Hill: “President Obama is sending two of his top diplomats to Capitol Hill next week in a final bid to stop new sanctions on Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry and his lead Iran negotiator, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, will testify in public before House and Senate panels about the preliminary deal reached last month in Geneva.”
USA Today: "Torched by disclosures the National Security Agency tapped into its data and spied on people and businesses, some of tech's biggest names have banded together to form what is essentially an anti-NSA coalition. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo lead the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, announced late tonight, to rein in the vast tentacles of the NSA and — perhaps — salve the worries of privacy-conscious consumers."
National Journal: “Officials in the Obama administration had already decided they needed to delay new health insurance options for small businesses even as officials were testifying before Congress that the program would be ready, according to newly released internal emails. The emails, released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, show that officials within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided in August that they needed to delay part of a new insurance marketplace for small businesses.”
Billy House: “With the House scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday, both chambers will try to address a bevy of unfinished business this week, including the budget, a defense bill, and legislation to fund food stamps and farm programs.”
Washington Post: "House and Senate negotiators were putting the finishing touches Sunday on what would be the first successful budget accord since 2011, when the battle over a soaring national debt first paralyzed Washington. The deal expected to be sealed this week on Capitol Hill would not significantly reduce the debt, now $17.3 trillion and rising. It would not close corporate tax loopholes or reform expensive health-care and retirement programs. It would not even fully replace sharp spending cuts known as the sequester, the negotiators’ primary target."
Wall Street Journal: "In the final week of 2013 that the Senate and House are scheduled to be in Washington at the same time, lawmakers and aides are optimistic that negotiators can reach a budget accord and continue to make progress on a farm bill and other measures. Meanwhile, a Senate rule change pushed through by Democrats should help ease the way for confirmation of several of President Barack Obama's executive-branch and judicial nominees, even as Republicans still have the power to prolong the process.
Politico: "Largely shut out of the budget negotiations, Capitol Hill’s minority parties are getting increasingly antsy about the emerging agreement. Senate Republicans and House Democrats are learning the details of a possible deal largely through the media. For Republicans, their unease is caused by news that domestic spending may surpass existing caps, fueled by an increase in fees on government services. House Democrats are growing angry over the increased likelihood that federal workers’ benefits are going to be cut and the possible exclusion of unemployment insurance."
Roll Call reports that despite the protests, the minimum wage is likely not going up soon because Democrats are lacking in political capital: “Even approving unemployment benefits before the end of 2013 is shaping up to be a tough haul for Democrats, who so far have failed to negotiate an extension as part of year-end budget talks.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) did not say that jobless benefits were make-or-break in a budget deal. He told This Week: “I don't think we have reached that point where we say 'this is it, take it or leave it.’”
David Hawkings: “On Monday afternoon, senators will spend just 30 minutes ‘debating’ the virtues of Patricia Ann Millett, a prominent 50-year-old Washington appellate litigator, before confirming her for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. However she distinguishes herself during that lifetime appointment, Millett will be remembered by congressional historians for this: She’s the first person to benefit from the limitations on Senate filibuster rules muscled through by the majority Democrats three weeks ago.”
And: “The GOP minority has not decided how much of a fuss it will make about the other five: Federal Reserve Vice Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen to take the helm of the central bank, former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson to be the fourth-ever secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency and, for the two other vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, Georgetown law professor Nina Pillard and federal trial Judge Robert Wilkins. Each may be slowed, but no longer can any of them be stopped. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will use Tuesday’s weekly caucus lunch to press for a consensus game plan.”
President Obama, the country’s top Democrat, is heading to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Republicans are sending… Aaron Schock. Schock has been alive four years less than Mandela was in prison.
The Sunday Times of London gives Marco Rubio a solid review after his recent visit to Britain.
The Hill: “Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is headed back to the drawing board with her controversial proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.”
Harry Reid’s older brother died. He was 85.
NBC's Jessica Taylor looks at are seven contests to watch in 2014 for how Obamacare could impact the midterms.
Beth Reinhard: “Democrats increasingly view championing the pay of hourly workers as a can't-lose issue that revs up their base of liberal, black, and Hispanic voters. Perhaps more importantly, it also resonates with the white, blue-collar workers who overwhelmingly side with Republicans. Since minority participation tapers off in mid-term elections, assailing Republican opposition to hiking the minimum wage could be a more potent Democratic wedge than immigration reform, particularly in red states with competitive U.S. Senate campaigns, such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Critically, it also allows them a chance to shift away from talking about Obamacare. But it won't be easy. In fact, in the races that will decide control of the Senate, it might be near impossible to get people focused on wages instead of the health care law.”
The New York Times examines the re-election prospects of three Southern Democratic senators -- Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). "Next year, Democrats will face not only a general hostility to the national party among Southern white voters, but also a keen dislike of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. "
As the budget deadline looms, liberal PAC American Bridge’s c4, the Bridge Project is out with a “new 30-page report, titled, ‘GOP Budget Blues: How Conservative Policies Increase Inequality,’ it uses detailed research to show that conservatives have a long record of neglect and hostility toward Americans in need,” according to a release from the group going out Monday morning.
Meanwhile, a Tarrance Group (R) poll conducted for Public Notice shows “Americans not only strongly oppose increasing spending, but also believe there are more cuts that should be made. A whopping 71 percent of voters, including 54 percent of Independents and 71 percent of women, would be more likely to re-elect their member of Congress if they voted to reduce spending,” according to a release from the group going out this morning.
Rand Paul on FOX on jobless benefits: “I do support 26 weeks of unemployment that they're paid for, if you extend it beyond that you do a disservice to these workers. … When you allow people to be on unemployment for 99 weeks, you are causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”
“A majority of Republican and Republican-leaning men, 53 percent, would be "very pleased" or "somewhat pleased" if legislation requiring universal background checks on all gun sales was passed by Congress and signed by the president, according to the latest United Technologies/National JournalCongressional Connection Poll. The results quantify the broad popularity of expanding background checks on firearms purchases across the political spectrum, even among a segment of the public usually opposed to gun-control measures.”
Bloomberg: “Elizabeth Warren, in her first year as a U.S. senator, has captured headlines by pressuring such industry titans as Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein for transparency, including a Dec. 4 call for Wall Street banks to disclose their contributions to think tanks that provide financial analysis to Congress. With less fanfare, she’s forging alliances with Republican Senate colleagues, expanding her political network in Massachusetts, and tapping her backers to help Democrats running for re-election in other states. It’s a strategy that sounds a lot like one adopted by another woman who entered the chamber with a national profile that made her a lightning-rod for praise and derision as she was dogged by questions about her presidential aspirations. ‘I think she’s followed a path not unlike that of Hillary Clinton, which is learn how to be a senator,’ said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.”
FLORIDA: Roll Call's Abby Livingston reports on the first television ads out of the special election in Florida's 13th District to succeed the late Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.). "State Rep. Kathleen Peters has joined lobbyist David Jolly on the airwaves for the Republican primary...Peters is even spending more than Jolly — so far — in television advertising, according to a Democratic media buyer monitoring the Tampa media market. Peters placed a one-week ad buy on Tampa cable worth around $22,000. Roll Call reported on Thursday that Jolly placed about $6,000 in ads....The 30-second spot seeks to frame the race as a local politician versus a Washington insider."
MISSISSIPPI: Roll Call looks at Thad Cochran’s (R) reelection and what it says is his toughest challenge in 30 years. The race comes down to whether Mississippians continue to reward a senator adept at “bringing home the bacon” for a state in need or if they see the debt as a bigger problem and conservatives try to pin it on Cochran. Said a Mississippi lobbyist: “If you can’t identify a Bridge to Nowhere, which I think they’re going to be hard-pressed to do, then you better come with something better than that.” The primary is June 3rd with a runoff if necessary June 24th.
The last month and half in American politics has been dominated by one story and one story only: the health-care law and its (now better-functioning) website.
But on Friday, we received a reminder of another political story that isn't going away anytime soon.
As NBC's Jessica Taylor writes, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., announced he would seek re-election next year, setting up a 2014 establishment-vs.-Tea Party GOP primary against state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Conservative groups quickly reiterated their support for McDaniel and opposition to Cochran in the June 3 primary.
“Throughout his over 40 years in Washington, Sen. Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things. He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a 'moral obligation' to cut spending,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. “Sen. Cochran has also voted to confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices and is a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks."
The Senate Conservatives Fund added, "Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country."
Meanwhile, the establishment in Mississippi lined up behind Cochran.
As GOP operative Henry Barbour tweeted:
Good news for MS w/ @SenThadCochran decision to run. He stands on principle, but is always a gentleman - not much of that left in DC.
And it's not just in Mississippi. By First Read's count, there are at least half a dozen Senate GOP primaries next year essentially pitting the Republican establishment against the Tea Party:
-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. Matt Bevin in Kentucky;
-- Sen. Lindsey Graham vs. a crowded field in South Carolina;
-- Sen. Pat Roberts vs. Milton Wolf in Kansas;
-- Sen. Lamar Alexander vs. Joe Carr in Tennessee;
-- Sen. Mike Enzi vs. Liz Cheney in Wyoming;
-- and the crowded field in Georgia vying to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
But as one Republican operative watching these Senate contests contends, it's very possible all of these GOP incumbents win their primaries next year. "As long as the senators are prepared to do the work ... all can win."
Yet there's also something going on in these races beyond ideology or the establishment vs. the Tea Party.
It's age -- or longevity in the Senate.
Cochran was first elected to the Senate in 1978; Enzi in 1996; Roberts in 1996; and Alexander and Graham in 2002.
As the Club for Growth put it in its statement on Cochran, “Throughout his over 40 years in Washington..."
Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term in 2014, NBC News learned Friday, making the veteran lawmaker into a top target for conservative groups during next year's GOP primary.
Amid murmurs that Cochran might retire rather than endure a campaign against already-announced challenger Chris McDaniel, the senator will instead try for another six-year stint in Congress.
The Mississippi Republican's decision was first reported by Roll Call and the senator confirmed it in an interview with Gannett newspapers. His Senate spokesman confirmed Cochran's decision to NBC News.
McDaniel, a state senator, swiftly picked up endorsements from the influential Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund after he announced his candidacy this fall. As the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Cochran has hardly enamored himself among conservative groups who wish to slash government spending.
The pressure on Cochran from his right is even more pronounced in a reliably Republican state like Mississippi, where the GOP primary can sometimes serve as a de-facto general election.
“Throughout his over forty years in Washington, Senator Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things. He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a “moral obligation” to cut spending,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Senator Cochran has also voted to confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices and is a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks – something that is opposed by Republican leaders in both the Senate and the House. Mississippi voters will make the final judgment as to whether it is time for a change.”
Cochran, who will turn 76 tomorrow, had appeared to waiver on whether he wanted to run again. He missed his self-imposed end-of-November deadline to make a decision, and his meager fundraising of just $53,000 in the third quarter didn't make it seem as though he was likely to seek re-election. Many GOP observers, both in D.C. and Mississippi, expected he would retire, but his thinking seemed to have changed in the past few weeks.
The veteran lawmaker likely still has the upper hand in the June 2014 primary. Still seen as popular in the Magnolia State, Cochran was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 before winning his Senate seat in 1978. He has been easily re-elected since.
Other statewide officials had said they would consider running if Cochran stepped aside, but his decision to run likely sets up a showdown with McDaniel, and may give Tea Party groups their best chance to knock off a member of the GOP establishment. SCF and CFG's political arms have already run television ads, praising him as a new conservative leader. McDaniel drew criticism for addressing a neo-Confederate group earlier this year.
"Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country," said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins. "We're going to do everything we can to help him get his message out so voters know they have a choice."
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa next week to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, the White House confirmed Friday.
“President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The White House said further details of the visit will be announced later.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
In remarks at the White House Thursday evening, Obama called the former South African president an inspiration to the world.
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” he said. “Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us -- he belongs to the ages.”
Mandela’s funeral is set to be held on Sunday, December 15.
Universal, bipartisan praise for Mandela after his passing -- when it wasn’t always the case… Cincinnati-area focus group: Voters angry with Washington, down on Obama, and feeling helpless in fixing things… November jobs report: Employers add 203,000 jobs and unemployment rate falls to 7.0%. (Is the slowly but surely improving economy the political story folks aren’t paying enough attention to?)… Wrapping up Obama’s interview on MSNBC’s Hardball… Scott Brown’s appears to confuse Massachusetts for New Hampshire… And de Blasio’s deft political move in hiring Bratton as his police commissioner.
As Americans reflect on the legacy of the former South African president, NBC's Andrea Mitchell takes a look back on the struggles and controversy Mandela faced on the global stage, including his time as an enemy of the United States.
*** Universal, bipartisan praise for Mandela -- when that wasn’t always the case: For a Washington that’s deeply divided on almost every issue, Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday was a unifying event. The praise for the late South African leader was immediate and bipartisan. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth,” President Obama said yesterday afternoon. “Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his ‘long walk to freedom’ showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity,” House Speaker John Boehner added. And here was the Republican National Committee’s Reince Priebus: “His legacy is defined by doing what others declared impossible, most notably fighting the evil of apartheid and beginning the healing of a nation.” But as universally praised and beloved as Mandela is now, anyone who was politically aware in the 1980s or 1990s knows that always wasn’t the case. After all, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed legislation -- which Congress overrode -- punishing South Africa for its racial apartheid. A lot of it had to do with Cold War mentality at the time; some viewed Mandela as on the wrong side of that fight. But it’s all a reminder how the passage of time and history can transform a one-time controversial figure into a political saint, and vice-versa. But it’s also a lesson that sometimes a policy of the moment will end up being embarrassing; politicians today ought to think about what a policy decision in the moment will look like a generation later.
Independent voters sat down with NBC pollster Peter Hart in Cincinnati last night to talk about their frustrations with politicians in Washington.
*** “The system doesn’t work”: If you follow American politics and look at any polling, you know that Washington right now is about as popular as New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez at a Boston Red Sox convention. But a focus group of 11 Cincinnati-area voters -- conducted Wednesday night by NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) -- further drives home the message that Americans believe Washington is broken. As NBC’s Carrie Dann, who covered the focus group writes, “America has met the enemy, and it is Washington.” Here was Terry Hartley, 63, a retired Romney voter: If members of Congress spent some time in his shoes, Hartley said, "I would hope that they would care more about the people they represent." He added, "That's what upset me so much about the shutdown. It's like they didn't care." Here was Brigid Brennan, a 51-year-old Obama voter, who said this about Washington politicians: "I think they were selfish. It's sad that we can't discuss things and come to a conclusion." This is how Hart summed up the attitudes: "They're indicting the president, they're indicting Congress," he said. "It is a sense that the system doesn't work, and they don't have an answer, but they know what they hate."
*** Down on Obama: And as Hart explains, President Obama “took it right on the chin.” Per NBC’s Dann, none of the eight voters who supported Obama in 2012, nor the three who voted for Mitt Romney, described themselves as "proud" or "satisfied" with the president, opting instead for "mixed" or "disappointed." Here’s Brandi Nixon, 34, an African-American nurse assistant who voted for Obama twice, both in 2008 and in 2012: "He's a big disappointment," she said. "He just lost focus. He lost focus on his goals…. He stopped focusing on creating more jobs and fixing the economy." Words used to describe the president, even by those who voted for him last year, included "inexperienced," "powerless," "cautious," "timid" and "overwhelmed." As Hart sums it up, “Yes, they are disappointed with the roll out of health care, this is a major black eye, but it is really more a sense that events are controlling him, rather than.his shaping and leading the country.” You could not walk away from this focus group without realizing the president is losing the faith of the swing voters whom he lured to his side in both 2008 and 2012.
*** Feeling helpless to fix Washington: Perhaps the most interesting finding from the focus group was that the participants said they felt helpless in being able to punish Washington. "That's probably the anger and the frustration," said Jeff Brown, a 45-year-old scientist who leans Republican. "It's not easy to do that." Here’s how Hart put the attitudes: "The public has figured out what's wrong," he said. "They can't figure out how to fix it."
*** Thoughts on 2016: With these respondents down on Obama, it was interesting (and maybe not all that surprising) that views of Hillary Clinton couldn’t be higher. As Dann writes, the Cincinnati-area voters described the former secretary of state and potential 2016 candidate as "strong," "vivacious," "powerful," "a great head of state" and "smart." All of the women in the group praised her sense of purpose, although the three Romney voters said they found her "distrustful." It also was interesting that the focus-group participants -- who were politically sophisticated -- had lukewarm feelings about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "Chris Christie was a non-personality," said Hart. "We talk about him as being big and omnipresent; he was small and insignificant." It’s a reminder that, outside In fact, participants had fuller impressions of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as 2016 contenders, although both elicited mixed reactions.
*** Employers add 203,000 jobs in November, unemployment rate drops to 7.0%: Despite all the political problems Obama has faced over the last month and a half, here’s something that might not be getting enough attention: The economy appears to be a lot stronger than many think. Here are the latest job numbers from the AP: “A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7 percent in November, an encouraging sign for the economy. The Labor Department says employers added 203,000 jobs, nearly matching October's revised gain of 200,000. The job gains helped lower the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent in October.” We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: As has been the case over the past two years, the U.S. economy is never as weak as many think it is -- but it also isn’t as strong. This also was a finding from the Cincinnati focus group: There was a belief that the economy is getting better…
*** Obama plays “Hardball”: Also yesterday, President Obama sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “Republicans ought to be ‘embarrassed’ of their record low productivity during their time in charge of the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama said Thursday. In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the president said Republicans shouldered most of the blame for gridlock in Washington, especially as GOP lawmakers tend to the ideological concerns of their party’s conservative flank. ‘They’ve got to be embarrassed,’ the president said on a special edition of ‘Hardball’ that aired Thursday evening. ‘Because the truth of the matter is they’ve now been in charge of the House of Representatives – one branch or one chamber in one branch of government – for a couple of years now. They just don’t have a lot to show for it.’”
*** Massachusetts? Or New Hampshire? Republicans tell us that there’s about a 50%-50% chance that former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) might run for the Senate next year -- in New Hampshire. And so Democrats were delighted about this video -- via the Dem oppo group American Bridge -- of Brown appearing to forget what state he was in while in Londonderry, NH. “What I've heard from the Republicans up here is they're thankful that I've been around for a year, helping them raise money, helping them raise awareness as to the issues that are effecting not only people here in Massachesett--uh, in New Hampshire, but also in Massachusetts, obviously, in Maine.” Ouch.
*** De Blasio’s deft political move in hiring Bratton as his police commissioner: Finally, don’t miss this other news from yesterday: Liberal NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio hired Rudy Giuliani’s former police chief -- Bill Bratton -- as his top police official. The New York Times: “William J. Bratton was named police commissioner of New York City for the second time on Thursday. But it is a different place than the crime-ravaged city he came to in 1994. And he said he was going to be a different kind of commissioner, overseeing a different kind of policing.” It was a pretty deft political move by de Blasio -- it placates those worried about New York returning to the 1980s when it comes to crime. But there’s also Bratton saying that his second go-around won’t be like his stint with Giuliani.
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