From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Abby Livingston
*** Jobs, jobs, jobs: The big news today is the latest unemployment number. It stands at 8.9% with another 539,000 jobs shed. It's the highest unemployment number since 1983 and is up from last month's 8.5 percent. The number is pretty much what was expected, as CNBC's Erin Burnett noted on MSNBC's Morning Joe, adding that the jobs-loss number was lower than expected. Not reaching the 600,000 jobs lost is an important psychologically, and it could be an indicator of a slowing in the recession, since "jobs are the last thing to recover," Burnett said. There is a lot of confidence among the president's economic team that we have bottomed; There is an assumption many companies have done all of the tough stuff and many Americans, personally, have done the same thing. No one was spending money these last six months, whether business or personal. But with the market starting to move and with many companies cut to the bone, the expectation is that spending by both business and personal households will increase and that will cushion whatever increase in unemployment we continue to see over the next few months. There is still one big unknown out there: what happens when the millions of unemployed lose their benefits and what happens when those laid-off workers who have been living off of severance packages run out of THAT money? Today, the president talks on job training and job creation (11:30 am ET) at the White House. The point of this new program is to show some compassion for those who are unemployed and looking for job retraining.
*** Speaking of economic strength: The unemployment number follows those bank stress tests released officially yesterday. Treasury says the top 19 banks need to raise about $75 billion in capital. And if they can't, the government will give it to them, so there's enough of a cushion. The administration really here is trying to distinguish between strong banks and weak banks, and it says none risks insolvency. It's a shift from earlier when the administration was criticized by Wall Street as casting a pall over the entire banking sector. But it's hard to know whether these tests are real or just P.R. It's almost impossible -- from a non-partisan, non-ideological point of view -- to validate the legitimacy of these stress tests. Listening to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs use words like "instill confidence" sounds more aimed at the market. Maybe the administration is banking on that kind of language sparking a recovery. If that happens, it won't matter if these stress tests are legit or just smoke and mirrors. There's an argument that the economy needs a little smoke-and-mirrors confidence boost every now and then. That said, let's remember, the credibility of both the administration and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is on the line with this one, so it's hard to imagine they would have been sloppy with these tests, since the political punishment for glossing over these stress tests would be severe.
*** The interest group balancing act: The administration also holds a Spanish-language town hall with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis that will be live-streamed from the White House Web page. Again, it's part of outreach to the largest growing bloc of the electorate. Hispanic groups are also lobbying hard for a Supreme Court pick. But so are other Democratic interest groups, like gay-rights advocates and now, as The Hill reports, the Congressional Black Caucus is pushing to have one its members be the pick to replace retiring Justice David Souter. "They are pressing the merits of Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who would increase the number of African- Americans on the court to two," The Hill reports. By the way, many Hispanic Democratic activists believe the administration hasn't been nearly as aggressive as it should be when it comes to appointing Hispanics into high levels of government. It's a rock-and-a-hard-place issue: there aren't a lot of well-known names for some top positions but there won't be a lot of folks for these positions if the administration doesn't find more Hispanics for the mid-level jobs that would lead to the big appointments. And it's the mid-level jobs where Hispanics are disappointed to date.
*** A rough start for the GOP: Could the Republican Party have gotten off to a rougher start in the Obama era? It's hard to think so. Even with Bush and Cheney no longer heading the party, the GOP finds its favorability ratings at or near all-time lows. Despite their enthusiasm for their unified opposition to Obama (on the stimulus, the budget), they're blamed more for the lack of bipartisanship in DC. While starting out with all the advantages in NY-20, they still found a way to lose that race. Despite the initial positive reaction to his victory as RNC chair, Michael Steele's reign has been, shall we say, not good. And holding on to 41 votes in the Senate, they enabled a Republican who proved he could win in the increasingly blue state of Pennsylvania to switch parties, giving Dems the prospect of a filibuster-proof majority. Yes, Obama is popular right now. And, yes, the GOP is still paying for the sins of Bush and Cheney. But what has to disappoint Republicans right now is that most of their recent problems have been self-inflicted. And to top all of this off, an effort to re-brand the party ends up causing an internal fissure between one of the party's supposed rising stars, Eric Cantor, and many of the leading conservative voices, including Rush Limbaugh. Never mind the silly debate over whether Reagan should be used as an icon or not. The issue of Reagan reminds us of the Kennedy-obsession Democrats had for decades. One could argue it took the Democrats nearly 30 years to kick the Kennedy habit (maybe longer). So, this Reagan issue may take the Republicans another 10 years to get over.
Video: Hardball's Chris Matthews talks with former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge about his decision not to run against Arlen Specter for the Senate.
*** On the other hand…: Republicans believe they're planting the seeds for future growth. The near-unanimous opposition to Obama's stimulus and spending has been an effort to regain the mantle of fiscal discipline. They're holding town halls across the country to listen to voters and, more importantly, get out of Washington. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has recruited well for 2010 -- Portman, Blunt/Steelman, maybe Castle, maybe Crist, a decent challenger against Boxer looks possible in California, Bunning may actually retire and Judd Gregg seems to be giving Republicans some hope he'll run again. Still, losing out on Ridge yesterday was a big blow. (And don't miss Ridge on Hardball yesterday, refusing to say who he'd vote for between Toomey and Democrat Specter. It's a "wonderful thing," he said, that in this country we have a "secret ballot.") The real question for the GOP will be whether these seeds can grow in a ground that's been so damaged by the previous administration. Strikingly, Republicans have yet to publicly break from Bush, whether on the issues (like insistence on tax cuts) or in tone (the GOP Web ads arguing Dems have made the country less safe).
*** Speaking of Bush-Cheney…: The Cheney legacy project continues. In his latest defense, Dick Cheney on a North Dakota radio show again blasted Obama on Guantanamo and torture, as well as the administration's handling of the economy, the auto industry, even the fly by in New York City. It's true that in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a plurality do not approve of Obama's handling of Guantanamo or the torture memos, for example. But with Cheney's approval ratings what they are -- lowest ever -- there isn't much sympathy for him as a messenger among the American people and the Obama administration has to smirk every time it sees him on TV or on the radio. And how about his words of advice for the GOP? "I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas…" By the way, has anyone noticed there aren't many Bush officials sticking up for Cheney in these recent debates? Could it be Cheney's doing this because he thinks some of his Bush administration colleagues are going to start dumping on him as various books begin to be written and circulated?
*** Pelosi under the gun: As many problems as Republicans have, there are still some lingering issues for Democrats in the underbrush. We noted a couple of weeks ago that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi couldn't seem to completely keep her story straight on what she knew on torture techniques. She has been pressing for a so-called Truth Commission, yet it was unclear how much she exactly knew about the tactics and how vehemently she voiced disagreement when she was briefed that these tactics could be employed. And then there's this today from the Washington Post: "Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used." And there's also that tricky issue of those ethics investigations that still haven't happened relating to Jack Murtha and Charlie Rangel. It hasn't been the greatest 100 days, politically, for Pelosi, though she certainly has been a loyal soldier for President Obama's agenda. Pelosi advocates would argue she's taking many of the political arrows that would normally be aimed at the president.
*** Remembering Jack Kemp: Today at 2:00 pm ET is the memorial service for former Republican congressman/VP candidate Jack Kemp at the National Cathedral. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger asked yesterday if Republicans should forget Ronald Reagan. "The answer to that historic question is an apt subject this week as the GOP, looking for a path from the wilderness, says farewell at National Cathedral tomorrow to Jack Kemp, who remained a Reaganite to the end," The Journal wrote. "Jack Kemp, anyone who spent time around him will tell you, stayed on message. That message, like Reagan's, had a number of parts, but it is not possible to even guess how many times Jack Kemp summarized his explanations of that message in three words: 'Work, save and invest.' Republicans should think hard about building a governing philosophy on the foundation of those three words, ideas that most voters understand. ... Mr. Obama won the election and deserves time to see what his vision adds to the nation's productive life. If while it awaits that, the Republican Party can't renew what Reagan and Kemp gave them, its listening tour could last a very long time."
*** 'Oboomers,' a lasting coalition or an Obama bubble? Note this CQ piece about the swing districts with heavy African-American populations that Democrats will have to defend in 2010 -- without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. "Banking on a different electorate in Obama's first midterm -- one with less energy among African Americans and first-time voters -- [Cincinnati Republican Steve] Chabot is confident that he can oust freshman Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus in a district in which 27 percent of residents are black. Not so fast, says Driehaus, one of a handful of Democratic victors in competitive districts influenced by African American voters -- call them the Oboomers -- whose first re-election bids will be watched closely by political strategists in both parties. 'We actually thought there would be a greater turnout in 2008,' Driehaus said. 'While the African-American vote made a difference, it was all of it together.'" The 2010 midterms are shaping up to be the first test of whether this broad Democratic coalition is lasting -- or if it was just a Barack Obama bubble.
*** New president meets old tradition: Tomorrow night is the hottest ticket in town, the time-honored Washington tradition of the White House Correspondents Dinner. It will be Obama's first as president. Comedienne Wanda Sykes is the featured entertainer. So what's this going to be like? There were lots of highlights out of the Bush ones: Remember Colbert (awkward), that impersonator, Laura's "Desperate Housewife" line or striking up the band? It will be interesting to see Obama settle into this stage. The only place we've seen him in a similar setting was that Al Smith white-tie dinner with John McCain during the campaign. Obama's jokes were OK, but McCain stole the show. By the way, we know who WON'T be there… Sarah Palin. After yet another accepted and then unaccepted invitation, the Alaska Daily News reports, Palin has decided to stay behind "because of the severity of the flooding in the Interior." Her husband Todd, though, will go in her place.
*** Enough already: By the way, the the Palins and the Edwards' continue to give daytime TV plenty of fodder. But we continue to ask: why? Why, in particular, is Elizabeth Edwards doing this? Apparently her friends are wondering the same thing.
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 25 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 32 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 179 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 543 days
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